When I sit down to try to write about tragedies, my mind usually goes to the first chapter of Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five," in which the author, unnecessarily excusing himself for not having anything erudite to say about the horrors of World War II, wrote that his book was "so short and jumbled and jangled because there is nothing intelligent to say about a massacre." He was right. Scribble away all you want, but I don't think you'll come to any purer understanding of human-on-human violence. We've been committing atrocities upon each other since we were able to walk upright, and the written word is not going to stop that trend. Still, like Vonnegut, who is one of my heroes, pounding away on a keyboard is cathartic for me, so I keep pushing the rock up the hill knowing that it's going to roll back down again. I try, probably futilely, to make sense of this life through the words I write.
Like a lot of people in this country, after the September 11th terrorist attacks, I started asking, "what's next?" One of the first scenarios I thought of was some kind of violent act taking place at a crowded sporting event. For terrorism as I understood it, all the pieces were there. You have a large group of people concentrated in a tiny area, the event is probably being televised and the security measures would probably be easy to bypass. So, after dozens of MLB playoff games, Super Bowls, Daytona 500s and NBA finals passed without anything happening, my worries disappeared. Then, while driving home Monday afternoon, I heard on the radio that bombs had gone off at the finish of the Boston Marathon, and everything flooded back. "They," a blanket term for whoever was behind the bombings, had finally hit us at a sporting event (keep in mind, the bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta predated Monday's attack by almost 17 years, but that happened in the pre-9/11 world).
I'm not going to speculate on who "they" are, or what motivated them to plant the bombs, but the effects are pretty clear; people, sports fans especially, are going to have nagging doubts about attending events now. This might dissipate in time, probably pretty quickly after those responsible are caught, but I'm willing to bet the majority of people who step inside a stadium or take a place along a race route over the next few months will ask themselves, "is this safe?"
To put it on a local level, the Boston Marathon website lists 13 people from Bel Air who finished the event. The quickest finisher among that group, Alex Kammerer, a CMW graduate who is finishing up his undergrad studies at Ohio State in a few weeks, talked with me on Tuesday afternoon. Kammerer told me that he has was frustrated and angered that an event so outwardly positive and celebratory was targeted for the attack, and that he did not intend to drop out of future marathons because of safety concerns, because, as he put it, "then they win."
As to his first point, the Boston Marathon, like other momentous sporting events, is indeed a celebration of the body and its capabilities. The people who decided to use that event, to murder people at it, so they could sow fear among us, are on the other end of the spectrum of humanity. They have not an ounce of humanity in them. They are loveless and joyless cowards.
And, Kammerer was right in the second point I mentioned, which is more important. Fear can be a hard thing to manage, but if you let it make decisions for you, then the loveless, joyless cowards win.