ONE OF MY college roommates was from West, site of the deadly explosion last night.
Larry loved to introduce himself to people with, “Hi, I’m from West Texas.”
Inevitably, he would get the response he expected to get: “Where in West Texas?”
That allowed him to laugh out loud and explain that he wasn’t from West Texas at all, but from West, the small town north of Waco.
I visited West once, with him and another friend. We were on our way to the East Coast for some national conference and we spent the night with his parents. Pleasant Czech people in a pleasant Czech town.
I’VE BEEN THINKING about Larry since I heard of the explosion last night and wondering if Larry is still living in West, and if he and his family are OK. I hope so.
The strange thing about this latest disaster is that, as horrendous as it is, I found myself almost breathing a sigh of relief that it was an accident, not the result of the actions of a madman or madmen, as in Boston, Newtown, Aurora, Tucson and many of the other scenes of the results of madmen gone wild.
Maybe I’m alone in feeling this way, but when we get to the point where even just one of us quietly feels a pang of gratitude or relief that the death of a dozen or so people in one single incident was the result of an accident or negligence or an act of nature – as in the tornados that we will soon start reading about – it is, unfortunately, a sad indication of how far we’ve fallen as a society.
Even as we are horrified and filled with rage over the mass killings by ideological, religious or racial extremists for whom human life has lost all vestiges of preciousness, I’m afraid that we may be on the verge of becoming inured to these acts of terror.
For starters, can anything equal the shear enormity of the 9-11 mass murders? Whether we want to or not, we find ourselves measuring every new incident since then with the yardstick established by the Twin Towers attacks.
And then there’s the sheer numbers and frequency of these insane incidents. We had barely begun to place the memory of Tucson in the back regions of our memory when we were hit by the stunning reality of the Aurora shootings. And just as we were making progress in moving beyond Aurora, we were hit by the brutality of the carnage at Newtown. And now, even as we are still talking and thinking of those children and school teachers and administrators, we are being slapped across the face with the bloody images of collapsing runners and legless spectators.
AND NOW WE are aching for Boston and trying mightily to control our rage. Will we have time to fully mourn, fully deal with our anger over this act before the next madman strikes?
How many more memorial services will our president have to attend to issue words of condolence and comfort and to assure the locals and the nation and the world that America will not be sidelined by these acts? Have we got to the point where the White House speechwriters already have remarks prepared for the next mass murder? Will these attacks become so common that the president will stop attending them because he won’t have the time?
Can we really believe the assurances that America will not be deterred by these madmen when we have precious little time to mourn the last act of terror — because we must brace ourselves for the next one?
And will we be so drained of empathy or sympathy or sorrow that we won’t have enough left over for the next West?
I know, I know. I’m not offering any answers here. I’m not pointing to solutions. I can’t talk about a better future. I’m sorry. I have none of that. All I have are words strung crudely together to express what all of us are feeling: anger, frustration and sadness. Profound sadness.