I ran on the elliptical after work, my standard 30 minutes. I turned on ABC World News, a full half hour of pure horror, scene after scene of the aftermath, the debris, bloody marathoners and spectators, expressions of terror. I would like to quietly say now, then, that my heart goes out to everyone affected, directly and indirectly, though it feels like it might be insulting or at the least incorrect to say “indirectly.” I am tripping over this again and again because I feel such pain and sadness but I also have this feeling like I’m not entitled to my pain and sadness — I was not, after all, in Boston; I did not experience this horrific event, nor one even remotely like it, I do not know anyone directly affected. It is not “my” tragedy, and how do I write about something that is not mine?
I watched the same clip of the explosion, with its fire and huge cloud of smoke start small and then expand in the right corner of the screen, played over and over again at various speeds. I had my earphones in but didn’t feel like listening to music, so I turned up the TV and listened to the muffled newscast through rubber distortion, and for the first moment all day what I was doing seemed to be the right thing for me to be doing. I realized the awful irony of the moment; the letting the horror of this event motivate me, the horror of a runner’s legs being blown off so there’s nothing left but sharp jagged stumps, his face an ashen grey (from shock? blood loss? the blast itself? all of it?) and I wanted to cry, started to cry on the elliptical, felt like this was the least I could do to make myself feel better (self-serving creature I am): I am here, my feet are carrying me, my awful wonderful imperfect yet perfectly preserved body is still here and whole and breathing, and when I went faster and faster I could feel my lungs working overtime, and I wanted to stop but more than anything, I just wanted to keep fucking going, because this small bit of strife I felt, this tiny amount of bodily stress is nothing compared to running 26.2 miles and then being blown down by a bomb.
And I know, I know that this is not the worst it gets when it comes to human travesties. But it was the amount of sheer horror, of “inside access” afforded us by way of Twitter and social media and every news station with their umpteen news crews, dangling cameras from all angles, news as reality show, that grabbed you by the throat and shook, that said LOOK AT ME, I’M EVIL AND I EXIST.
It makes me think about all of the other travesties, ongoing and past, that are silent and sealed and on the whole unknown to the majority of us, conveniently ignored, babied and sheltered as we are. Iraq. Syria. Vietnam. I could go on. These are very familiar terms, too familiar really, vague words that we hear in the news often. They are so familiar that we casually speak of them like we know something. But we do not, as the majority, understand the horror of these things, of dreams of being forever trapped in the jungle, memories of men you called brother dying off like flies in an airtight room. Sure, we have our statistics, our death tolls, our daily reports of dirty bombs and IEDs and mistakes made, but we have very little visual reference point for the horror. This, to me, seems abnormal. I realize some might say the opposite, claim it’s humane to hide the blood and bones and mutilated carcasses, but I think it’s a cop-out. Who are we really protecting here? Who is protecting whom?
I see serious incongruity within a society that widely accepts tourture porn — Saw, Hostel, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc., etc. — as “escapism” and a relief from reality, yet cannot accept or even confront its own history, whether past or in the making. I am inclined to wonder: if we started showing graphic photos and footage, especially the things considered “too explicit” for the evening news, would we have a shared sense of responsibility? A shared sense of conscience? If we could see the real-life, everyday horrors splayed across our screens morning, noon and night, would we maybe be better for it? Would we be more compassionate, more human, more aware? Or would we find new ways to tune reality out? We cannot sustain this schizophrenic bubble-world existence forever. My only worry is that our humanity might be gone long before that happens.