I was able to get into my home in Copley and grab some things today. Talked with Anderson Cooper off-camera for a little while about everything. I sat with the Silver Fox on a Comm Ave bench and asked him what he thought of everything happening here given how much he’s seen all over the world. I have to say, he really squints a lot like he’s looking into some far away land of FACTS and it’s kind of awesome. It totally works. He could tell me my name is Rufus and I’d believe him. Anyway.
I asked him if he thought Boston’s response was exceptional or if it was simply human nature. We talked about whether America would learn something substantial from this or if the same cycle of shock and surprise would repeat again with no change, no lessons learned. Below is a distillation of my thoughts coming out of that conversation and I’m not entirely sure you will like them or agree with them. I’m not yet sure I like them or agree with them but…I’m sharing nonetheless because it feels good.
9/11 was such a big and terrifying spectacle that it played into our idea that America is separate from the rest of the world. When terrorsim happens to us, it is big and it is exceptional. But this bombing in Boston feels like the market bombings in Morocco, car bombs in Baghdad, and bus explosions in Israel. It’s a raw kind of vulnerability we’ve been exposed to. An everyday kind of danger that could catch us anywhere. Before this, my biggest concern walking through the Back Bay was dealing the flocks of drunken, sexually frustrated white dudes and avoiding piles of dog crap. Now I’ve gotta worry about bombs? What do you do with that?? This is a very new feeling we have to get used to and it’s easy to get angry about it, get scared about it. But there’s another piece to it…
I asked Anderson Cooper if he thought what we saw on Monday was human nature or if it was Boston being exceptional. He said human nature…and this dude has seen some crazy things go down. You don’t just learn how to squint like that for no reason. He told me about the people picking each other out of the Earthquake rubble by hand in Haiti for days and the people dusting off their communities from rocket explosions in Israel so they can move on with their lives together. Each time with the compassion and the ‘mounting sense of defiance’ we are all feeling right now.
So here’s what I make of that. Our people lost lives and limbs on Monday, but in the big picture, in terms of our collective identity, we didn’t lose…we gained. We gained a sense of vulnerability. And I know that sounds weird but hear me out. If we can acknowledge our vulnerability without being overcome by fear, we can gain wisdom from it. Through our vulnerability we find our connection to the rest of the world. This tragedy is an opportunity to stop peering out beyond the security of our castle walls and piteously wonder how tough it must be to live ‘out there’. It may feel like those walls are crumbling right now but they were never real. It’s time to join the rest of the world waiting for us in a more substantial collective reality. A reality where chaos lurks underneath the crust of our daily lives but altruism is always ready to stifle its violent eruptions. A place where differences are just priorities.
Vulnerability is a fact of life but not the ultimate one. Anderson Cooper said to me that he finds that ‘the world is remarkably safe’ and honestly my own travels confirm that. Peace is the norm that is disrupted by violence, not the other way around. It’s the loudness of death’s rattle which makes us think otherwise.
I told him that when I had seen him report about so many other tragedies they all just felt like numbers to me. Statistics. Not any more. When I read today that bombs just killed more than 30 people in Baghdad, I think of what happened on my block and know that I could share their fate. That my people HAVE shared their fate and that my community still faces such danger. The ‘us and them’ has lost it’s potency. The unity has come to the fore.
Now I can look up from my little phone screen, my badge of American priorities and awkwardly try to squint Silver Fox style as I look off into the distance understanding just a LITTLE bit more what it means to be a part of our world…and probably step in dog crap because that happens to me literally once a week.