The neighborhood is a quiet one where everybody walks. Five minutes by foot to the office. Three blocks to school. Home is a multi-story building with a park on each side. Whole Foods has a store five blocks to the east. The walk back is only a little uphill.
In the afternoon, children throng the streets, heading by foot and bike to after school activities. Lessons, sports.
I love a particular stroll at dusk, past the playground where my grandson and granddaughter climb and swing, twenty feet from their front door.
It’s so peaceful. Even though when you lift your chin, you see Freedom Tower poking up six blocks distant, reminding everyone that peace is relative.
On Halloween, that tenuous peace was shattered by an Uzbeki terrorist. He did it in a van, mowing down eight tourists, and swerving into the area where a high school and two adjacent schools were letting out.
This happened three short blocks from where my grandchildren live. My son arrived ten minutes later at the apartment, on his way to the airport. His babies weren’t there. He couldn’t reach their mother. Very little was known about the extent of danger, that soon in the aftermath.
Before long he learned that they were, indeed, safe—a few blocks away from where evil blossomed, this time.
I was in Winedale, 1720 miles distant, but it felt like a near miss. The killer’s path of carnage ran along the Hudson River bike path toward Battery Park City. In June, my son, grandson and I had stood together on that bike trail, at the entrance to Pier 25, where many West Side residents take their children to play. There are tennis courts, a soccer field, beach volleyball, a miniature golf course, ice cream and hot dog stand, a marina, and so on. If the terrorist had made his foray ninety minutes later, he might have killed a great many more people, and their children.
We seize upon familiarities in the aftermath—a foreign terrorist, ISIS-connected, using a rental van similar to earlier disasters in Nice and London. The guns he waved weren’t real.
Five days after the van attack, peacefully worshipping residents of a tiny Texas town near San Antonio were slaughtered in their pews at the First Baptist Church. Twenty-six people died that morning for motives not fully confirmed at the time of this writing. The lone gunman was a Texan, a dishonorably discharged airman with a long record of trouble. Enraged at the time, possibly, over a domestic dispute.
The latter horror felt much too close for comfort, geographically and personally, for many of us in Fayette and surrounding counties. It was a town smaller than some of ours, a Sunday morning church service. Urgently, we want to know the why of it. A reason is required.
We want explanations because they give us the much needed opportunity to distance ourselves from the unthinkable. To make ourselves and the ones we love seem less at risk. The more details we learn that separate us, the safer we feel.
But we are not safe. We cannot be safe from random violence. Deranged minds may have motives, but motives don’t change the reality that for the victims, death came like a lightning strike, a falling meteor. Unexpected, undefended, random.
We human beings hate that. We’re hardwired to impose a pattern on chaos. And what lengths we go to in pursuit of those patterns.
What philosophies, what religions, what conspiracies we embrace in our desperate longing for order, for meaning. All of us do that in one way or another. It’s not limited by culture or nationality.
For some, even the most maleficent conspiracy is better than drifting among the vapors of randomness. Conspiracies imply a human cause. Cause implies the possibility of control.
As do guns. Why else do the most insecure, the most troubled among us, amass their arsenals? Their AR-15s and other assault-style rifles. Devices designed primarily to slaughter herds—of people, that is.
And so the bloody cycle of pain and loss continues, played out on our most personal screens, until—bless our bruised hearts—we are distracted from it once again.