Bracing For Tragedy -- Do You?

It's hard to believe, but we're actually safer now than at just about any time since the world began.

Yes, there have been the Adam Lanzas and the Isla Vista, Calif. mad man mass murderers but, in fact, gun homicides are down almost 50% since 1933, Pew Research reports.  We've never been safer.

But, as T.M. Luhrmann points out, that doesn't help us much.  The New York Times contributing opinion writer and professor of anthropology at Stanford calls it "our flinching state of mind."  We are so programmed now to flinch when we enter department stores, or city halls, or even schools, expecting violence, that, as she puts it, "That's not what it feels like, and what it feels like damages our sense of who we are."

I'll admit it.  We live right off High Ridge Road, very near our son's middle school,  and now, every time I hear sirens, I scan Twitter and local news reports, terrified there's a shooter at his school.  It didn't help that one day, when I was there, leaving a meeting, two police cars raced in, lights and sirens blazing, followed by an ambulance and fire truck, and all I could think was, oh my God, oh my God, it's finally happened.  Fortunately, it turned out to be nothing but I felt so uncomfortable about how I immediately felt, hearing the sirens, and bracing for possible tragedy, that I realized just how much my world has changed in the last couple of years now that schools -- schools! -- are no longer safe grounds.

That's how we live our lives now, it seems.  Bracing for tragedy.  And it can happen anywhere.  Churches. Synagogues.  Mosques.  Going for your driver's license (well, it could; all other manner of unpleasantness takes place there!).  How did we get here?  How did we become a society where any place you go could potentially turn into a blood bath?

I know, I know.  The Internet.  Being plugged in everywhere.  And yes, of course, the availability of guns. But that's for another time.

My own life didn't start out so well.  There was abuse in my childhood.  So I learned to be cautious everywhere I went and didn't, ever, take risks.  But over time, and developing healthy relationships (I've been married 20 years!), some of the fear that something bad was always just around the corner started to slip away.

 Luhrmann refers in her opinion piece to people who lived in an area where 12 million tons of black sludge broke through a dam in 1972, killing 125 and causing 4,000 to lose their homes (much like what happened with the mudslide in Snohomish County in March), who could never get over, for the rest of their lives, seeing that 30-foot-high black mountain of sludge come sluicing at them, or stop feeling the panic that closed in around them.

They saw it everywhere they went, after that, even if they were not personally affected.  It's like that for us, I think, now, with the cruelties and barbarism we see imposed by the sick minds among us, that we apparently have no way of ferreting out.

Elliott's parents did everything right.  They got him help.  They called the police.  But it didn't help.  How can we not feel afraid of everything around us?

But as we all got tired of hearing after 9/11, "We can't let the terrorists win," it's true.  What would life be like if all we ever saw -- or worried about -- was tragedy?  I'm never going to stop worrying every time I hear police sirens racing down High Ridge road (I've gotten good at telling at whether they're going up, good -- or down, bad).  But after surviving cancer twice, a mother-in-law who asked if my son was so skinny because I fed him dog food, and my childhood, I've learned to take it one day at a time, and let up, just a little, on the bracing.


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