Monday, April 22, 2013


Hi, there,

I assume that you and yours are ok after this remarkable week, as I have not heard otherwise. I have not asked, because if something was wrong you would be too busy dealing with it  to respond. But I have been thinking about you.

What a week; political debates, explosions in both Boston and West, Texas, a massive manhunt, and today a rocket launch not far from my house. At least the rocket was both peaceful and intentional. This week I have joined in the national ritual of obsessively watching the news, as though watching something happen was the same thing as doing something about it, a kind of mass secular prayer.

What can I say, other than what I have already said, which is that I'm glad you apparently have not been blown up? I could say the expected things, but other people already have. And anyway, I don't feel the expected things. I never do at times like this. I don't feel a sudden flush of vulnerability. I'm always surprised, but not shocked, when violence erupts in some unexpected place. I mean, why shouldn't it happen here, beyond the fact that it shouldn't happen anywhere? I'm not overwhelmed by grief or sadness, either. I'm not angry. I'm mostly just solemn and alert, conscious that what is happening is a Big Deal.

Why am I not sad? I remember, after 9/11, sitting in a park near my house trying desperately to be grief-stricken, and it just would not come. I've learned since then to stop trying to feel what I don't, but it still puzzles me. I still wonder what it means about me, or what other people think it might mean about me.

Maybe I just don't understand violence or hate. I mean, I do understand, at least intellectually, several possible motives for this type of attack. What I don't understand is how anyone could actually want to kill other people. It's like how it's hard to properly appreciate the scale of interplanetary distances or the size of the national debt; they don't seem real. How can I be angry about something I can't quite believe? I don't understand hate and I don't understand hating, and I do not want to ever understand.

Then, too, if I'm going to have a knee-jerk emotional reaction, like sadness or fear, it's going to be to something personal and immediate. I was thinking about this the other day, by a lake inNew Hampshire. My personal, immediate situation did not include a bombing. My immediate situation included pine trees and brilliant blue water and a bath house, painted red, upon which a moth was trying, completely ineffectively, to blend in by resembling a grey patch of lichen. To move beyond the immediate, I have to think, and that changes my perspective. I want to know that my friends are ok, and I want to find out what is going on, what the scope of this attack may be, and what our country's response will be. I worry about the health and safety of our nation's Arabs, who of course had nothing to do with this attack, but unfortunately that is not likely to matter. I worry about the political repercussions and whether this will become another excuse to further erode or civil liberties and privacy. That day by the lake I didn't yet know who had planted the bombs, and I wondered if this attack would lead us, again, into war.

It's not that I can't feel sympathy for strangers far away. Occasionally a news story will strike home and reduce me to tears. Like an interview with a little Syrian boy who calmly described watching his neighbor killed by bombs. Or the documentary where they said bowhead whales can live two hundred years and so some of them can remember the height of whaling. Some carry old harpoon heads deep in their bodies. And I just started to sob, thinking of these animals and how American whaling, for us a matter of history we consider safely abandoned to the past, is still a living memory for them.

But these sudden windows on others' suffering are intermittent, unpredictable. They don't happen when everyone else is feeling the same thing.

I don't really want to respond to national tragedy by talking about myself, but I can't be the only one who doesn't feel the right feelings. Maybe I just want to make a pitch for the freedom to respond however one does.

What do you think?

-best, C.

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