Like most people, I was elated over the weekend to learn that the terror is over in Boston. But I was foolish last week. I tried to shield my kids from the horrible Boston marathon bombings and the aftermath. I say I’m foolish because my oldest is 8 — just like Richard Martin was — and I should know better by now that he lives in a different world than I did when I was 8.
He lives in a world where tragedy, terrorism, school shootings, and lockdown drills are a normal part of nightly dinner conversations and are carefully worked into classroom lectures. So when I saw the news this past Monday, my immediate thought was the same as most people I talked to.
Again? How can this be happening again?!
My next thought was that I didn’t have the strength to have another “important talk,” and see the confused, frightened look on my son’s face as I sat him down to explain that evil exists in this world, but that good always triumphs.
For the last few months, it’s been Sandy Hook and Hurricane Sandy (which was particularly tragic in our area), the sad death of a karate classmate, the realization of what a beloved aunt’s cancer battle really entails… maybe if I can spare him this one, I thought, I could preserve his innocence just a little longer.
But of course, when he went to school the next day, he heard all about it and began asking me for details as soon as the dismissal bell rang. He asked for the kind of details that no 8 year old should ever, ever be concerned with. He wanted to know how many people died. He wanted to know if any of them were young people. He wanted to know why anyone would do this, and if the police will kill them like the soldiers killed Osama Bin Laden. I started with the fact that there had been three deaths, with many other people hurt.
Here’s what he said: “That’s not so bad. It could have been worse. It could have been like the Twin Towers.” In that moment, I realized my sons are growing up in a world where we rank tragedies in terms of body counts, in which “only 3” casualties makes it almost unremarkable. In this new world, when bombs can go off in a major city on a beautiful day during a highly attended athletic celebration, we can say “it could have been worse” because we know it could have been — we lived through 9/11 and haven’t forgotten the horrors of that day.
I don’t think it could be much worse for the families of the deceased, or for the spectators whose limbs were blown off, of course. The fear doesn’t get more real than the type felt by the residents who were in lockdown during the massive manhunt for the two terrorists.
But for those of us watching from afar, who did not have friends and family in the immediate danger zone, we’re desensitized to it all now. Sure, we mourn, we get angry, we pray, and we tear up with pride as we watch our nation come together and break into impromptu renditions of the Star Spangled Banner. But we’re not surprised or shocked anymore.
While this saddens me, I can at least take comfort from the fact that through these awful events, children are also seeing the best of humanity, heroism, courage, and patriotism. They can look for the “helpers,” as Mr. Rogers said, and always find them.
I just wish my kids could know what 8 felt like for my generation, where we derived our notion of good vs. evil from pro wrestling, Rocky movies, and Scooby-Doo. But after Boston, I’m not sure that’s possible.