My father and I went for a walk today. I had to go to the post office and the bank; he wanted to leave the house. So we walked and as we walked, we talked about simple things: the weather, gas prices, potholes, a neighbor’s magnolia tree. He told me not to waste money on a cup of coffee; he would make some when we returned home. The conversation became even more mundane when we entered Walgreens and he made a passing comment about how he should avoid the candy aisle. And then we walked home.
It was a perfect walk.
My father is a character. I frequently make fun of him, his non-sequiturs, and his inexplicable love for Notting Hill on this blog. But I do it out of love and respect. Every so often, I’m reminded how the things I have come to appreciate about my father, the things I didn’t appreciate about him until after he retired and I moved back home, could very easily not exist.
Days like yesterday, when the city I used to call home is devastated by the first act of terrorism in the US since 9/11. After checking in with my sister and friends, my only reaction was to observe my father as he watched the news coverage. I was reminded of being 12-years-old, sitting in the same TV room, watching the news coverage on 9/11 and waiting for my dad to call. This is a strange memory I constantly live with. It’s an uncanny feeling and one that I’ll never fully grasp.
The experience of observing a terrorist attack from a distance is equally profound. When bombs go off in cities overseas – it doesn’t matter whether it is in Kabul or London – there is a false sense of security. We tell ourselves that because the attacks are happening over there and not here, we are safe. Because there hadn’t been a domestic terrorist attack since 9/11, we were safe. I sometimes think that since I experienced a terrorist attack in one of the worst imaginable ways, nothing else can happen to me. This is my own futile, self-preservation tactic.
But with Boston it is different. The city has been one of my second homes. I escape there as often as I can. My sister and many of my friends live there. Family and friends have run in the Boston Marathon.
There is also the fact that I am now old enough to process and understand this attack. Unlike 9/11, which forced me to realize that the world existed beyond my self-involved pre-teen self, I can see a bigger picture.
So I’m met with an overwhelming numbness, a sense that “Okay this happened. Now what?” I’ll be supportive when I need to be. I’ll follow the news. Maybe I’ll be more observant of a stranger’s behavior when I’m in public. But mostly I’ll just go about my day.
My father and I won’t discuss what happened in Boston yesterday. We don’t need to. When something of that magnitude happens, there is an understanding that once the initial shock wears off we are to continue with our lives. We don’t analyze the event and we don’t watch the news. Tomorrow my dad will give a tour of the National September 11 Memorial as he does every week and I will go to work as I do every day.
And I’ll continue to cherish the simple act of going to Walgreens with my father as he debates what mouthwash to buy. (He always picks the discounted store brand.) I know all too well how it couldn’t be happening like this.