Danger. Terror. I remember an interview in a bad Detroit neighborhood. When I approached a couch in the small front room, the mother said to me, “Don’t sit there. They can shoot you through the window.”
Danger. Terror. In Leipzig, East Germany, I had a young female translator. When we approached my hotel, she froze.
“I cannot go in,” she said.
“Why not?” I said.
“That’s for foreigners. If I go in there, they will arrest me.”
“Don’t be silly. We need to work.”
“Please.” She began to cry, then shriek. “I cannot go in! They will hurt me!”
Danger. Terror. There’s a group in Israel called ZAKA, dedicated to picking up pieces of the dead. Whenever there is a bombing or a terror attack, ZAKA arrives with incredible speed to collect anything — an ear, an arm, skin — believing the body needs to be buried intact, that a human being is entitled to at least that dignity.
Danger. Terror. I’ve seen children in Haiti too afraid to sleep inside once they knew an earthquake could strike again. Been told in Mexico to hide any jewelry and get quickly into a friend’s car, lest you become a kidnap target. Been in train stations around the world that post warning signs for stray backpacks or packages that might contain explosives.
And once, more than 30 years ago, I ran the Boston Marathon. At the end of the race, I crossed the finish line in Copley Square, nearly four hours after the thing started — or around the time that bombs went off in that spot last Monday — and I never thought that something might explode and kill me.
But now, if I did it again, I would.
Danger. Terror. It is a fact of life in today’s world. Anyplace. Anywhere. You can be shot, blown up, kidnapped, arrested. The world is an increasingly scary place.
The question is: What to do in the face of it?
I read a quote from a female spectator in Boston, who suffered minor injuries and who told CNN, “I personally will never participate in an event of this nature in a city in fear that something like this could happen again. … Seeing terrible things … all over the world on TV, my heart would always go out to those directly affected. But I never imagined in a million years I would be a spectator at the Boston Marathon running for my life.”
This is a very telling statement. She admits she has seen terror happen all over the world, yet says she could never have imagined running for her life. Why? If it happens all over the world, why couldn’t it happen to her?
She also says she will never participate in an event like the marathon for fear it could happen again. Yet things like this had been happening for decades, and it didn’t stop her from coming to Boston that day.
And it shouldn’t stop her in the future.
As the details of the bombing suspects spilled out into the weekend, one thing remained abundantly clear: There is simply no way to guard against everybody. You cannot predict every deviant behavior, protect every space in every gathering, survey all faces in a crowd or gauge the contents of every bag, pocket, shoe or human body.
We can attack the training bases of terror, but that won’t prevent another Aurora, Colo., or Oklahoma City.
We can X-ray every inch of people on a plane, but that won’t ensure someone won’t blow up a train station. The numbers are impossible. Everyone is a potential terrorist; not everyone is a police officer.
I think about my Boston Marathon finish, being so happy at Copley Square. And it’s tragic that maybe no one ever will feel so carefree there again. But while this latest trepidation is real and awful, it is no different than the Detroit woman who lived in fear of her window every day. We can be killed anytime, anywhere, doing anything.
We live in an age of miracle and wonder; we live in an age of danger and terror. The only sure thing is that some days it will feel more like one than the other.
Mitch Albom is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press. Readers may write to him at: Detroit Free Press, 600 W.Fort Street, Detroit, Mich. 48226, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.