In the 48-or-so hours since the Boston Marathon bombings, I’ve made a point to stay in public places to overhear the inevitable chatter the tragedy has stirred up (this article is being written from the Terminal 2 lobby at San Francisco International Airport). I figured this would be a particularly good place, given the number of direct flights arriving from Boston and the news crews I can see about 50 feet ahead of me, cameras ready to catch people who may have been at the marathon.
While it makes sense that people are talking, I have observed complete polarity in terms of the future effect events like this will have on people’s day-to-day lives. Some are adamant that the event will come back stronger than ever, and if they participated or attended, they wouldn’t miss it for the world again next year. Others, however, seem to be taking a very clear stance that the world is just nuts and they will think twice before attending any event of this magnitude in the future.
If any of you find yourselves leaning towards the second category, I’m writing this article in hopes of bringing you back to the first.
That someone would do something like place a bomb next to a trash can with the intention of killing innocent people at random is reprehensible. I’m pretty sure any of you reading this are fully in accord with that. But by letting such an tragedy deter you from pursuing something you would otherwise enjoy, people who take this approach are simply reaffirming the responsible party’s intention of not only killing people, but creating lasting fear and paranoia, which I would argue is just as toxic in the long-run.
The Marathon bombing was truly tragic, and everyone’s thoughts and prayers should go out for the three fatalities and 176 people injured in the blast. Scary stuff? Absolutely. But let’s shed some perspective on it. Of 23,000-plus runners and an estimated 500,000 attendees, perhaps we were fortunate that there were only those three fatalities and 176 injuries. By comparison, the city of Boston alone has averaged about 10 traffic fatalities for every 100,000 residents each year over the past two decades or so, which projects out to about 52 for the same amount of people who attended the Marathon. That breaks down to one every week. Add in the suburban area, and pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, and we’re probably talking about a total death and injury count that is comparable to what happened at the Boston Marathon on a weekly basis–just by people going about their daily business to-and-from work or activities.
Of course, the often-sensationalized media coverage also doesn’t help deter the spread of this paranoia and fear that the culprits intended. Watching the news last night, I was saddened that the report about a 20-year-old who was identified by police as a “person of interest” because he was seen running from one of the bomb sites with a hand injury (which would make him just one of 176) had to specify that he was a Saudi national. It turns out that after police talked to to him, this “person of interest” was determined to be nothing more than a victim, but I can’t help but think about all of the people who heard that report and what they will think the next time they walk past a Middle Easterner on the street. I simply don’t see why the “journalist” couldn’t have just reported that police were talking to a person of interest, rather than specify his ethnicity or nationality, at least until there was any evidence that he was in fact involved. We only have to look back as far as Newtown to see that it isn’t just foreigners that commit acts of terror in this country.
My point in all of this is not to belittle the magnitude of tragedy that the 2013 Boston Marathon will forever be remembered for. Lingzi Lu, a 23-year-old from China fulfilling her dream of pursuing her Master’s in the United States, Krystle Randle, a lively 29-year-old from the Boston area and 8-year-old Martin Richard all had promising lives ahead of them, and will be dearly missed. The 12 others who suffered amputations of some sort will also surely never forget Monday.
My point is also not to suggest that we should be afraid to drive or bike or walk to work. Accidents have and always will be a part of the cycle of life, and the reality is that no matter how careful or cautious we try to be, any of us could have our number called at any time.
My point is to demonstrate that by pursuing the things we love to do, participating in things like Boston’s Patriot Day and storied Marathon that are celebrations of the human spirit, even with the ever-present threat of life’s evils, we are at no greater risk than we are going about our everyday business. And more importantly, to emphasize that if we allow fear and paranoia to dictate the way we live our lives, we are allowing the people responsible to succeed in their mission far more emphatically than they have already. I didn’t have the honor of knowing any of them personally, but I would argue that Lingzi, Krystle and Martin would rather be remembered as heroes who died celebrating one of the more exciting days of their short lives rather than as symbols of the day we let the fear and paranoia stirred up by a few sick individuals triumph over the human spirit.
It is appropriate that we should all be in a state of mourning for the three beautiful people we lost on Monday, and send our thoughts and prayers to their families, friends and the other victims who will have to struggle the rest of their lives without an arm or a leg. But we should also be careful not to let the psychological impact that Monday’s bombing, and the sensationalized media coverage that has surrounded it, sap some of our spirit for celebrations of humanity. I can’t help but thinking back to childhood, growing up watching Mister Rogers, and remembering him talk about seeing scary things on the news:
My mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers–so many caring people in this world.
Here’s to taking Mister Rogers’ advice and looking back on Monday as a story of heroes like Lingzi, Krystle and Martin, and helpers–the thousands who made sure that the tragedy wasn’t any worse–rather than a story of terrorists and victims. If we do that, then evil simply can’t win.