I am sure the first and most powerful impression we have from Boston in the wake of the bombings has been shock, disgust, sadness and anger. Like the pictures of the planes crashing into the twin towers from over a decade ago, or the pictures of destruction from Oklahoma City, images from the Boston Marathon finish line are seared into our memories. Permanently. How do we put these impressions in perspective? Is there some way to stop them from happening?
Sadly, it seems we have no way to completely prevent these kinds of actions on the part of deranged individuals. Given the huge population of the earth, now around seven billion, it appears to me that there will always be some small percentage that are going to choose the path of terrorizing, killing and maiming others. Just like the destruction from tsunamis and other destructive natural events, we can take steps to minimize the damage, but given the access we all have to powerful weapons and technology, the few who become viciously destructive will have the means to kill and injure without much warning.
But after we get through the many unpleasant and anxiety provoking aspects of these bombings, there are some very positive impressions that speak very well of the overwhelming majority of Bostonians, and by implication, almost all the rest of mankind. There are the pictures of the deserted streets of Boston as the city was in lockdown on Friday. Where there would have been many thousands of people and automobiles in the streets, the streets were empty except for law enforcement teams. The leaders responding to the threats were able to effectively communicate to everyone in Boston what needed to be done to best respond, and millions complied! People trusted their leaders and followed the plan, while law enforcement personnel risked their lives in a deadly manhunt to prevent further bloodshed. The images of the deserted streets have a very positive message about all of us.
Then there were the images of “average” people, in the midst of bombs exploding around them, not knowing their cause nor where the next blast might come from, running to the aid of those badly maimed. They stopped their bleeding and did their best to comfort, without concern for the obvious danger they exposed themselves to. Like the many first responders who died climbing the stairs of the burning twin towers, most human beings will place aiding the injured and endangered above their own safety and welfare. It is a very, very small number of us who have any motive to destroy the lives of innocent people. But the vast majority of us will immediately rise to the aid of those mutilated and suffering, to protect and comfort.
Then there were the images of the jubilation as the word spread that the last terrorist was captured. Beyond the jubilation, there was the incredible outpouring of appreciation as the law enforcement vehicles left the scene. People who minutes earlier were locked in their homes, poured out into the streets to applaud those who risked their lives to protect them. Police, firemen, and medical first responders where all smiles as they received the continuous applause of the people who lined the streets. This is another set of images I will never forget.
The challenge for us is to get beyond the abhorrence and disgust of our initial reactions. We will continue to try to prevent these kinds of attacks to the extent we can. We will do our best to answer the possibly unanswerable question of why these two men took the path of terrorism and destruction they chose. But can we see the progress we are making? Can we appreciate the massive outpouring of concern and assistance that far outweighs the power of the two men that brought all this into our lives? Very, very few are like them. Nearly everyone else is peace loving and supportive, and most will even willingly risk their lives to aid and comfort the mortally injured. And the aid for the afflicted will continue to pour in.