In my first days of teaching English at a school outside of Philadelphia, I stepped from a class to see the twin towers ablaze on a television in another room. I recall thinking that perhaps a colleague had incorporated some Hollywood blockbuster to complement a lesson. But of course the World Trade Center inferno was no fiction at all but instead our sense of security clattering down around us.
Like many in Manhattan on that horrific day, my brother, close to ground zero, watched aghast as victims hurtled themselves from the burning buildings. I recall as we drove to Connecticut to gather with family a couple of mornings later, skirting New York City and seeing smoke still billowing from the ashes.
“Americans have had a ‘social memory loss’ of what it’s like to be attacked,” David Lauter of the “Los Angeles Times” noted yesterday. Unfortunately, the marathon explosions in which more than 170 people were maimed and three killed, including an 8-year-old boy, has provided a harrowing reminder.
“I mean, where are we safe anymore?” another mother asked on our way into our children’s nursery school this morning.
Our preschoolers, oblivious to yesterday’s trauma, strung streamers through the playground fence as a sort of game. I imagined the colored strips were fluttering in the spring breeze in sympathy with those victimized by the siege in Boston. I periodically closeted myself in my room to listen to NPR today, away from our three children, trying to shield them from the horror, much as I did after the massacre at Sandy Hook. I eventually had to stop peering at images of yesterday’s carnage, finding the pictures to be so unbearable. Unlike the victims and their families, I have the luxury of that choice.
I grieve for the victims and loathe the insecurity that violent mass killings force us to confront—the fact that we can be in danger simply pursuing the activities of daily life, such as reporting to work or sending our children to school. The idea that some members of the human race are so full of hatred, so out of control, so prone to psychotic breaks that they commit brutality, angers and repels me.
Yesterday, comedian and writer Patton Oswalt observed in a Facebook post that the good will always outnumber the bad, that the “vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evildoers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak.” I believe this to be true. But atrocities such as the Boston bombings or Sandy Hook or 9/11 make me despair. And I shudder to think about how the forces of evil often prey from within, as with priests who molest their parishioners or parents who traumatize their children—as with the murder/suicide I once covered as a newspaper reporter in which a father slaughtered his wife and his children before killing himself.
I know that I cannot combat evil on a grand scale. But I am trying now, on yet another “day after,” to seek solace in the fact that I can make a difference, not just by supporting a public agenda of social justice, such as anti-gun legislation, but by tending to my own. I am renewing my vow to treat my three children as tenderly as possible, to teach them empathy and compassion, to provide a stable enough scaffold for them that when outside elements shake it, they do not tumble off but instead leap down to help reestablish equilibrium.