"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."
-- Frank Herbert, in Dune
I’ve struggled for most of the past two days wondering what to write—if anything at all—about the recent horror in Boston. Part of me feels compelled to say something, but another part of me fears what that will be: I am too often filled with cynicism, anger, or sarcasm.
My wife called one of our clients today, a rote follow-up call regarding a workshop we recently hosted for them. Ironically (I suppose) the session had focused on team-building. The client took the call and apologized for not getting back to us earlier; it seems one of their employees was currently still in a Boston area hospital, and everyone was waiting to hear whether or not she might lose one of her legs.
News cycles must be filled; it is our twenty-first century mantra, the cornerstone of our media mania. We listen to the news, then the commentary on the news, then the commentary on the commentary. We soon grow worried, then numb, then frustrated until, finally, we fill in the gaps, pretend to know the unknowns. We don’t like unfinished stories; we need beginnings and middles and ends with plots that cohere, that make sense (even in nonsensical ways). And so, for a brief time, we converted a hospitalized witness into a suspect, noting that he was Saudi Arabian. And then we published an interview with his roommate. I wonder: Does this say as much about our willingness to terrorize as the act itself?
All life is lived within the comforting illusion of safety. We know it, viscerally, yet carry on anyway. This is perhaps the bravest thing about the human condition, that, and our willingness to help others when the illusion is shattered. The famous psychologist Abraham Maslow (who spent time at Brandeis University, just outside of Boston) wrote that "In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth or to step back into safety.” These outer moments become the test of our inner strength, as does our willingness to share that strength with those around us, whether family or friends or strangers. Whether us or them.
I flipped through the channels. Here in New England both the local and national stations offered near-continuous coverage. The same images repeatedly blanketed the screen; only the voice-overs changed. Little was known; littler of meaning was said. In one instance a brave interviewee—someone expert in such crises—parried the attempts of the journalist opposite who had decided, not surprisingly, to fill in the vast narrative holes with supposition and suspicion. The guest, rightly, kept pushing back, reminding the prodding host that we knew almost nothing, that we had no claimants, no suspects, not even a reliable timeline of events. Also not surprising was the length of the guest’s appearance: all too brief. When nothing is known, the script says “invent,” and this guest, refusing to, left us with the merely uninteresting truth.
It may be a while before we know what happened, but most expect that eventually we will. Science, forensics, and human nature soon reveal the hidden in such cases. Our challenge then will be to hold onto that truth for what it is, to resist the attempts to morph it into a larger story, one that further divides us. This is not a time for division, nor a story to be used for such purposes.
The Boston Marathon will run next year, and the year after, and the year after that. We are not a people wont to cower. We have learned (and frequently relearn) this important lesson: If we wish to be free, if we wish to rise and show the world the face of that freedom, then we must recognize that the only true way to do that is, simply put, to do it, to be free and to show that freedom to the world. Let us never forget that freedom is a marathon worth running, and one that we will continue to run.