By NICK CHILES
There is a numbing familiarity to these scenes now, when Americans unite for a moment to share their horror at another despicable act that stole away innocent lives. This time it was in Boston, at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The last reports I saw said three dead and well over 100 injured. The injuries included at least 10 people who had limbs blown off in the blast.
The descriptions of witnesses at the scene were unimaginably horrific. “These runners just finished and they don’t have legs now,” eyewitness Roupen Bastajian said. “So many of them. There are so many people without legs. It’s all blood. There’s blood everywhere. You got bones, fragments. It’s disgusting. It’s like a war zone.”
I heard that the dead included an 8-year-old boy, while a 2-year-old was being treated with a head injury at the hospital.
As the grisly reports came in, I immediately thought about my 10-year-old daughter, who was with me at the time. She is a child who frightens easily, who visibly shakes when loud, angry thunderstorms come rolling through town. We cringe whenever we hear the shrill alarm of the National Weather Service, alerting us of yet another tornado watch in Atlanta—they seem to come with the regularity of the summer swelter here in the Southeast—because we know our daughter is likely to be cowering in the corner somewhere, fighting with Teddy, the family dog, for the most comforting spot.
What frightening images must she be conjuring in her head about the dangers of the city streets? She had just run a 5K last year—surely after the Boston Marathon bombs we would never again be able to get her to run a race outside.
With my stomach in knots, I turned to my daughter to see how she was taking in the reports of carnage in Boston. And what did I see when I looked in her face?
It wasn’t a rude or disrespectful lack of concern for the victims in Boston. It was more like a 10-year-old’s unique ability at self-centeredness—the news and events of the day are distant grown-up business unless they have a direct impact on me. In her mind’s eye, another act of terrorism in another American city was not a big deal—after all, she heard her Mom and Dad fretting about one of these at least once a month.
She was nonchalant because a bomb at the Boston Marathon that killed three and injured more than 100 felt commonplace in her mind, just another headline in a regular American news cycle. She pays enough attention to the news and her parents’ conversation to have heard about Newtown and Aurora and Hadiya Pendleton and the baby shot in his stroller in Brunswick, Georgia, and a long list of other tragedies that her news junkie parents work themselves into outrage about on a weekly basis.
Bodies at the Boston Marathon, 8-year-olds getting blown up, Americans destroying each other with hate and violence… this is the world she has grown up in. This is the only life she knows.
I can see how all this might get processed in her quick little 10-year-old mind:
Yes, it’s really sad that people died in Boston. Yes, a bomb at a marathon is something that my parents could never imagine.
But then again, didn’t they say the same thing to me when that baby got shot in the face two weeks ago?
Didn’t they say the same thing to me when that guy killed all those kids at Sandy Hook two months ago?
Didn’t they say the same thing when that crazy dude shot all those people in the Batman movie last summer?
And every year, when Sept. 11 comes around and they get all sad thinking about the horrible things that happened before I was born up in New York, the city where they were born, don’t they say the same thing to me?
They never could have imagined it.
The absolutely sad, disgusting and frightening thing is that our daughter, in her 10-year-old innocence, can image it—all too well. Because these kinds of sensational acts of terror, these horrible bits that shatter lives and make us all hug each other a little tighter as we fret about the danger and the possibilities, is all she knows. It has happened one too many times. And so we talk to her. And answer her questions. Ask her a few, too. And rub her little heart with our words to remind her that there can never be anything normal or routine about hate and violence and murder and babies dying in American streets.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.