Surviving the Boston Marathon bombings

3 people died in the horrible, evil bombings at the Boston Marathon 2 days ago.  6.9 billion people did not.

Here are some of the ways those people survived:

By never having been to the United States before.

By living in the United States, but having never been to Boston.

By having visited Boston, but not this week.

By being in Boston every day, but not near the marathon.

By being big marathon fans, but not being able to go this year because of a business trip.

By watching the marathon from mile 22 instead of the finish line.

By watching the marathon from the finish line, but leaving 5 minutes before anything happened.

By running in the marathon but finishing before the explosions.

By running in the marathon but not getting near the finish line before the explosions.

By being near enough to the explosions to have heard them, but not near enough to be injured.

By being near enough to be injured, but having it miss you somehow.

By being injured, but only having cuts and bruises.

By being injured but saved by first responders.

By experiencing traumatic injuries but still being able to live a long and full life.

It may sound like I’m being flippant, but I’m not.  Security expert Bruce Schneier was interviewed by Ezra Klein yesterday.  Bruce Schneier is quite smart and I always find him worth listening to.  In response to the idea of being scared following an attack like this, Schneier says, “I tell people if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. By definition, news is something that almost never happens.”  (I recommend reading the whole interview.)

Not too long ago, there was a small country which was constantly a temporary home to friends of mine, studying or vacationing, and which was also repeatedly targeted by terrorism attacks.  I worried about them a lot. While worrying, I read some things about life in a place like that. People say things like, “Yeah, I was in a bar that was bombed once. I happened to duck behind the bar right before the bomb went off, so the shrapnel missed me. I was fine. You can’t live in fear all the time. Life goes on.”

From the time of the marathon bombings until end of this week, it’s statistically likely that there will be more than 3 homicides in Philadelphia, where I live. From the time of the bombing until now as I write this post, it’s statistically likely that around 200 people have died in auto accidents in the United States.

It’s understandable to be afraid of bombings, or of car accidents, or of murders of a less-explosive variety. But most people are aware of the latter two possibilities all the time, and may not be at all surprised by these statistics, and yet manage to live their lives day-to-day without fear. I submit that that’s a realistic goal for all of us to strive for in the wake of these bombings. They’re just not something to be afraid of. You survived this one, and you will survive the next one.

Now. That’s all well and good from the rational side of things. But maybe this bombing affected you emotionally a lot, even if everyone you know is fine. Maybe because you’re a distance runner, or knew people at the marathon, or have a lot of friends and family who live in Boston.  Maybe it’s none of the above, and you’re just an especially sensitive person, or were having an especially sensitive day on Monday. (Which is nothing to be ashamed of, by the way.) You may find that recovering from your fear or shock seems daunting or impossible.  You may understand rationally that you are safe from terrorism, but your emotions may not reflect that at all. If so, here’s what I suggest you do:

Hug your loved ones.

Be patient. It may take you another couple of days to recover from this. It may take you another couple of months.

In the meantime, embrace your emotions. Don’t run from them.

And if you think it will help, cry.

If you think it will help, hug your loved ones again.

If you think it will help, take some extra time for yourself where you can, instead of responsibilities that can wait.

If you think it will help, watch the amazingly eloquent response of a fictional president to a fictional attack not much different from this one.  And then watch it again.

If you think it will help, think about or read about the people who acted heroically on Monday, or thank heroes or future heroes you might know in helping professions.

If you think it will help, read the Schneier interview again.

If you think it will help, keep an eye on the coverage of the bombings. Actually, not this one. Turn the TV off. The goal here is to work toward restoring normalcy and a sense of control. There’s nothing normal about wall-to-wall coverage, there’s nothing you can do to control what’s happening, and I promise you won’t miss any big developments.

If you think it will help, volunteer to help people who are lonely or hungry or cold, or animals at an animal shelter.

If you think it will help you, take political action and do some organizing around preventing future attacks like this.

And give it time. Humans have a massive, remarkable capability for healing. It doesn’t come quickly, and it doesn’t come easily, but almost always, we get there.

After a few months, some of us might not be getting better, and could benefit from consulting with people in healing professions. And some of us might be hurting so badly now that they could benefit from that as well. But for the majority of us who are hurting, we just need some time and some self-care.

And then, in time, your emotions will catch up with the rational understanding that we don’t have anything to be afraid of. And, yes, things will be back to normal. You will have survived. You have survived.

Take care.

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