Is safety simply an illusion? Has it always been?


What really makes us safe?

Once again, horror and revulsion paradoxically pin me to my computer screen. The scenes from Boylston Street in Boston look more like Baghdad than a bustling American city. Bombing a marathon? Who does that? The sad truth is that many culprits will likely come to many minds. Once again, I’m afraid and alert. But mostly I’m sad and confused.

Massacres in movie theaters and elementary schools–maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that a marathon is now the mark. No high-powered assault rifles here. No vacant-eyed villain to loathe. The mystery of whodunnit propagates a new level of fear. Who do we blame? Where is the enemy now?

For now, we have only two bombs, splintering walls and fences, tearing through flesh and metal alike, exploding into a sunny spring afternoon, once again reminding us that no place is completely safe. Blood-drenched pavement refreshes the truth that those who wish to incite mayhem and unleash barbarity will not retreat quietly into history. They are here, they always have been, and they aren’t leaving. They will always live just beyond the outskirts of our own back yards, waiting for us to look away. And when we do, they’ll breach our picket fences and force us to give them our attention. They did so today.

As hours and days pass, details will emerge, red flags unfurl, and likely we might feel as though we should have seen this coming all along. The greater the horror, the more precise our hindsight. We express disbelief at our naiveté. How could we have been so blind? Of course someone could turn jetliners into fuel-laden bombs and bring down towers once thought invincible. Of course madmen could come into our schools, unleashing a hailstorm of bullets to maim and murder. Of course the movie theater, the college cafeteria, the eleven o’clock church service, the local mall could be the scene for some new twisted version of violence. And we should have seen it coming. Right?

I don’t think so. My imagination doesn’t have that kind of range. Thank goodness.

We seem unable to overestimate the fecundity of evil even as we underestimate the fidelity of good. I embrace that world view. I choose to employ a little faith in the service of hope, believing that virtue can prevail over villainy, even on a day like today. I can’t fear every event a target, every stranger a terrorist. I won’t hide. I need to believe that safety is more than an illusion, that it is, to a reasonable degree, attainable. We have to keep trying. We can’t drop out of the race. Because if I’m constantly hiding behind the relative safety of my picket fence, and I don’t even try to run, how can I ever win?

This is serious.

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