noun 1 a state of intense fear 2 a: one that inspires fear (scourge) b: a frightening aspect c: a cause of anxiety (worry) d: an appalling person or thing (brat) 3 reign of terror 4 violent or destructive acts committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or government into granting their demands
We live in frightening times, of that there can be no argument. Still, for the most part we carry on with our daily lives not allowing the fears that reside in our minds to overtake us. Each of us worries to a lesser or greater extent about personal problems that range from difficulties with finances to concerns about a dire medical diagnosis for a loved one. Mostly we have little time or energy to expend on thoughts about the world at large even as we are barraged with daily news reports of happenings in places far from our homes. As long as trouble is not in our own backyard we mostly give only passing notice to pain and suffering. The job of a terrorist is to create an action that is so unusual in its brutal disregard for humanity that it gives us pause and causes us to look over our shoulders and to feel the racing of our hearts. An act of terror is one that makes us afraid of the possibilities of horror in our daily lives. In its most extreme form it pushes us to isolate ourselves in fear.
Even though most of us understand that the odds of being a victim in a terrorist attack are quite literally one in many millions the randomness of such incidents makes us realize that they might happen anywhere and at any time. We might be dining out or celebrating with our coworkers at a party. That stroll down the street in our daily routine may be interrupted by murder and death. The most recent attacks have been in the most unlikely of places. We see that they might as well happen right next door.
We are carefully searched at big events. Our buildings now have barriers, armed guards, metal detectors. We are probably relatively safe at a highly publicized event. Terrorists search instead for the venues in which we have let down our vigilance, places that are so ordinary that it would not dawn on us to be afraid in them. Violence in such situations becomes even more horrifying because it is so unexpected.
My mother suffered from attacks of paranoia in relation to her bipolar disorder. At times she experienced psychotic episodes that were painful and terrifying. She became unable to function and locked herself inside her home in a state of unrelenting anxiety. Only with medical intervention was she able to return to a normal state of mind that allowed her to resume her usual activities. Until then she was convinced that her life and ours were in such grave danger that we should not venture out into the world. Such times were sad and toxic for her. Her illness literally held her captive and kept her from enjoying the beauty of our shared human experience.
In many ways the goal of terrorism is to create a similar sense of impending doom in all of us. The hope is that in witnessing shocking scenes of violence we will all become less and less willing to venture forth in defiance of the threats. The terrorist’s goal is to shut down our normal sense of security. Their desire is to make so many of us afraid that we will demand our leaders to defer to their agendas. It is a game of cat and mouse that all too often leads to senseless harm and a loss of freedoms for everyone. As the perpetrators ratchet up the horror even those who are far away from the events become a bit more wary than they might otherwise have been.
Ironically I learned how to experience the wonders of the world without fear from the strength and wisdom of my mother before she was afflicted with a mental illness. After my father died she was determined to be adventurous while still being cautious. She showed us how to be aware of the people around us and to note the potential dangers of different environments. By being rationally observant we never fell into harm’s way and we were ready with a plan if things went awry.
I recall helping my mother to notice everything that was happening around us. If a car followed us for many miles Mama would pull into a crowded area pretending to be part of a large group. From her I developed a kind of radar that allowed me to note the demeanor of the people around me. It was a skill that came in quite handy when I became a teacher. I was one of those individuals who seemed to have eyes in the back of my head. I generally ferreted out trouble before it even began.
To this day I am unwilling to enter an elevator when there is only one person inside. I take note of the exits in hotels and theaters in case I need to leave quickly. I almost unconsciously watch the people around me. I have developed a sixth sense. I have plans for what to do if trouble arises regardless of where I am. I do not dwell on such things. I simply consider the possibilities, formulate potential solutions and then go about the joy of celebrating life. I refuse to live in fear.
I don’t mind taking off my shoes, opening my purse for inspection or walking through metal detectors. I know that such considerations are part of a plan to keep me safe. When a TSA agent is wary of a snow globe that one of my grandchildren purchased on a trip to New York City I applaud him for being careful. I don’t become angry when a guard in France gives me a full body search because I decided to bring home rock samples from my travels. I realize that such incidents happen in efforts to make me and those around me safe. They have become part and parcel of our new world order. What I do refuse to do is lock myself away because I am afraid of what might happen if I venture out. Once we begin to fold to the demands of terrorists we are truly doomed. They will not suddenly back away if we are compliant. They will only expect more and more deference to their wishes.
The world is mostly good. Of that I am certain. On any given day it is likely that our routines will be uneventful. Most of us will never see violence up close and personal. We need not fret or worry needlessly. Instead we must work together as world partners to find ways to eradicate those people and groups who would needlessly harm our brothers and sisters. If we stand strong and together the power of positivity will doom them just as it has throughout history. I for one intend to live courageously and to partake of life. I will not allow anyone to terrify me. It is the fear that kills us but only if we allow it to strangle us. Be not afraid.