I originally wrote most of this post over a week ago. I had named the post "Fear Thy Neighbor". Jan, with her editor's privilege, changed the title. Here it is again, with lots of my editing, for San Bernardino.
In June of 1985, my parents came to visit us in Berlin, Germany, where my ex was stationed at the Tempelhof AFB. Mom and Dad had to change planes in Frankfurt before reaching their final destination. The airport in Frankfurt had been bombed two days before their arrival. The Arab Revolutionary Organization claimed credit. Needless to say, my parents arrived in Europe very shaken and asking if they had to go through Frankfurt to go home. (Yes.)
Shaken. Huh. An understatement. Scared shitless. I don't think they would have come but for the monetary investment in the tickets, et al. I also was reluctant to put my parents in danger. Who would want their parents to fly into an airport bombed by terrorists two days before they landed? But I rationalized, and my parents probably did, too: "They" wouldn't bomb the same airport again so soon. Anyway, Germans are really good at cleaning up messes, and my parents said the Frankfurt airport "looked normal".
We enjoyed a month of travel with my parents. We spend a week in the Netherlands, staying in a small North Sea shore town, we traveled to Amsterdam and Delft. We drove through Belgium back to Germany and stayed in a castle on the Rhine. From Frankfurt we took a high speed train to The City of Lights, Paris. The Folies Bergere was evening entertainment, and the next day, during site-seeing, my ex's pocket was picked. Before our return to Berlin, we enjoyed a view of the Alps and great German food in a small Bavarian town.
And, lucky for us, statistics once again won and we were all fine the entire six weeks we traveled throughout Europe. And, you know, that is what it was: Dumb Luck. Those folks in San Bernardino were simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time. I'm sure no one at the holiday party was an evildoer. No one there had shot, stabbed, raped, bombed, or otherwise seriously harmed anyone.
But there they were: a-rat-ta-ta-tat-a-rat-a-tat-tat. About 70 times the news said. And they were gone.
Back to Berlin: The next year, in April, our family was returning from a spring vacation in Amsterdam. As we arrived at the Frankfurt train station to catch the American train to Berlin, we were unnerved by the significant increase in security. Soon we learned the reason: the bombing the day before of a Berlin disco frequented by American service men. There were 230 injured, 40 were Americans. The bomb killed four Americans. The bombing was carried out by Gaddafi's secret service.
Once again, we dodged the bullet, we rationalized that since we didn't go to bars, we were ok. Are you rationalizing that since you don't work for the state of California, you are OK? Or, are you gonna go get an assault rifle and be ready when "they" come?
As a result of the Berlin terrorist attack, my children's schools were now guarded 24x7 by armed soldiers. Their school buses were now escorted by machine gun mounted jeeps. Bomb threats were no longer an anomaly. How do you explain that crap to your kids? You do your best and, instead of cowboys and Indians, they play soldiers v the Red Army Faction and make play bombs outta old batteries and discarded wire.
We found no way to rationalize this. I just wanted to grab my kids and go HOME... where it was safe.
Then, not long after, there were the early morning sounds of close gunfire that woke me and my ex. The ex Marine veteran of Viet Nam and now Air Force sergeant said:. "Automatic... like M-16s... somewhere behind the high school." We could see the high school, across the street from our fourth floor apartment, through our bedroom window.
The police blotter I grabbed the next morning at work told me what I wanted to know. The night before, the US Army tank headquarters, located a stone's throw from the back of the high school, was attacked by un-named terrorists, but the Red Army Faction was suspected. This information was never released to the public.
I was privy to lots of "stuff" not released to the public in my job as a social worker for the American Community. Like the bomb they found in a brief case in the American hospital. They didn't even try to evacuate the hospital, hoping they were lucky enough to get the bomb out before it exploded. They were;it didn't. There were more, but you get the idea.
Three months before the end of my ex's tour - August 1987 - as soon as my three boys finished school, we were on a plane HOME, where we would be safe.
We all made it home. Everything turned out OK; we were lucky again. And I literally kissed the safe Louisiana ground.
And then there was 9/11... Paris... San Bernardino. And more "terrorist" attacks (defined by the FBI as four or more killed) since January 1, 2015 than days we have had this year. And still thousands more of us Americans are killed by other Americans than terrorists. Terrorists, so far, don't hold a candle to our neighbor.
And it matters not if the "active shooter" is our kid's bullied-once-too-much-fellow-student or a "radicalized" young man from the Middle East, the motivation remains the same: Hate. And, almost always, it is hatred of the unknown, hatred of what we do not understand, of the different. Sure there are other factors, but hate is the motivator.
And rationalization is the way we bullshit ourselves into believing it won't happen to us.
Several years ago a client of mine, let's call him Joe, told me an amazing story. He and his brother-in-law were driving home to Slidell from New Orleans on Interstate 10 early one morning. As far as they could tell, they were the only vehicle in sight, on either side of the interstate. Then, out of nowhere, a pick-up truck comes careening across the median, heading straight for them. Joe had no time to react, and crash-boom-bang, the truck smashed into the front side of Joe's car. Joe and his bro-in-law weren't badly hurt, and climbed from their car, now in the ditch. Mad as riled-up-hornets, they looked into the cab of the truck, and found no one.
Ten or so seconds earlier, ten or so seconds later, the pick-up truck woulda missed 'em. And, so it is for all of us, everywhere. Not luck, or fate, or fault. It's just that shit happens. And, as the song says, "sometimes you're the windshield, sometimes you're the bug".
There is a cure for the ubiquitous hatred. Live well. Be kind. Accept - even if you do not understand. Love one another. Tell the people you love that you love them. Often. Perform random - and, if possible, anonymous - acts of kindness. Give freely; accept humbly. Know that we are all in this together: Our Mother Earth, the Blue Sky, the Deep Ocean, the Ever Changing Wind. Even the Lions, and Tigers, and Bears are in this with us.
Miss Althea, have a good day.