Distraction and fear in the worst of times

by Jeff Laughlin

For a short time, before Google Earth interrupted America’s reverie, we collectively imagined the boat. Subconsciously, we drew the picture — a long cigarette boat, a speedboat or maybe a creaky fishing boat with gear poking through a cover.

Tougher to imagine? A wounded 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev lying in that boat, wanted for participating in the Boston Marathon terror attack.

Our minds wander when having to picture awful circumstances. I know mine did. I tried to name the boat.

Perhaps the man named it something silly after his children, like the USS Sally Mander or maybe some terrible pun like the SS Men Owe. Perhaps a song title about the boat’s color? Lady in Red or Blue Oyster Craft.

I gave the boat these silly names to escape reality. A kid did this? He laid a bomb near another, smaller child? He maimed hundreds of people? He followed his brother to inhumanity?

Or was it a sleek black boat named Night Rider? Peculiar, the way our minds assign meaning.

In retrospect, it seems disingenuous to worry about a boat during an unprecedented manhunt, but I needed escape. In that way, Tsarnaev and I shared an experience. The freedom from heinousness and gunfire led him to that boat and led me to watch baseball.

Of course, the announcers discussed the attack and Tsarnaev’s subsequent disappearance. The internet allowed me to keep abreast of the police chatter and surveillance.

Then I saw a picture of the backyard. The boat was so ordinary, so run of the mill: a white vessel, covered up in the backyard, with limited space.

The pictures reminded me of when I saw the first grainy images of the attackers. They looked like regular kids with nothing to do, one with a backwards cap and a half-smile and the other with aviators and a nice jacket. They looked like brothers enjoying the race.

When Americans profiled the unknown bombers in our heads, I suspect we saw Bin Laden-like beards with disaffected scowls or Ted Kaczynskistyle hoodies covering bitter, attention-starved gazes. Some likely guessed on ethnicities and religions — Muslim extremists, perhaps, or preppers trying to jump-start the end game.

Did anyone expect a would-be dentist who reportedly loved “Game of Thrones”? Did we think American citizens could turn on their homeland? Certainly I never considered the poor, huddled masses as enemy combatants.

Now, the aftermath begins. The rush to politicize terror will form in waves. Who will be next?

How can you spot/prevent such an act? Do you know a potential terrorist?

Likely, you do not. Our imaginations will continue to churn up the pictures we cannot see and the people we do not know precisely because we do not know them.

We scare easily. Explosions, in particular, will do that to people. Overreacting rarely leads to proper action. When you hear people blame anyone other than the perpetrators, remember that the causality of fear is an intended effect of terrorism.

The Tsarnaev’s, despite whatever connection they had to outside interests, had one idea in mind: Create fear and recklessness in otherwise normal society.

There is no escape from that fact, few distractions. The Boston Marathon attacks destroyed lives, but not livelihood. Acts of irrational recklessness should not change humanity. The fear will subside. If it does not then we ordinary people are wounded, bleeding out, and the surrounding masses closing in on us have the worst of intentions.

To fit all the fear two young men created in one country? We’re going to need a bigger boat. But for now, we are all in the same one.