It’s a sad sentiment voiced loudly and with much distress in these times: what a dangerous world we live in! It’s as true as it’s always has been.
I don’t remember the exact moment I was sentenced to die. Then again, it was over 56 years ago and I was but a millisecond old at the time. Yet, the instant I welcomed that first gasping breath into my infant lungs, I also accepted my fate. Someday, I would die.
It wasn’t that day – nor has it happened with any of the roughly 20,513 sunrises since. But it will. I surely didn’t know then, but it’s been a fact of my life for a long, long time now that someday it will end.
This world is determined to kill me. Someday, it will succeed.
After the Paris atrocities and again following the latest shocking massacre in San Bernardino, airwaves and social media sites featured more than a few stories and posts about how to survive an “active shooter” scenario. The suggestion is these situations are now something for which we should plan and rehearse.
On the one hand, I appreciate the advantage of being prepared. I’ve been on an airplane with passengers screaming “FIRE!” (actually smoke from birds sucked into the engines), and you better believe I focused in those panicked minutes on how I was going to escape alive.
But, as deeply troubling as it is to imagine being in the middle of one of these horrific sieges, I question how much mental and emotional energy we should give to such scenarios.
First, rational thinking says focus on things most likely to kill me. Five of the top six causes of death in the US are heart disease, cancer, lung disease, stroke, and Alzheimer’s; collectively, these health issues are 84 times more likely than homicide to kill you or me. Accidents are eight times as likely. And, of course, mass shootings and terrorist attacks are an infinitesimally small portion of all homicides. Actually, Americans take their own lives through suicide at a rate 2-1/2 times the homicide rate. Making people anxious and scared while spreading despair is probably not helping.
But, beyond facts and figures, there’s a more fundamental reason not to obsess over being the victim of an “active shooter” event. And, that goes back to my original point. I’m going to die. Finding that fate on the receiving end of terrorist’s assault weapon is a possibility – a very, very remote one. But, my eventual death is guaranteed.
I can react to that reality by retreating to mitigate each would-be cause of my demise, but ultimately I can’t prevent it. I can only delay it, perhaps to day 20,514 and beyond. But, what bargain can be found in cheating death by avoiding living?
If you want, you can dub here “then the terrorists win,” but it’s more basic than that. Then I lose. Whether it’s fear of terrorism, accidents, or some contagious disease, if I let fear keep me from living my life, there’s not much reason to live.
I don’t know if my soul had a choice before stepping through that cosmic opening and into my baby body. But, for all my mortality and the suffering and loss which come with human life, I’d do it all over in a heartbeat. So many magical moments… the experiences… to love and be loved… the wonder and awe…
When Louis Armstrong recorded “What a Wonderful World” in 1967, the times were arguably just as turbulent. Yet, he sang:
“I hear babies cry, I watch them grow. They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”
Like the song’s writers, Armstrong saw much more than that in his time. It’s always a matter of how narrow or wide we choose to focus our lens and how much we open or close our heart.
The trouble with fear is it leads to anger and quickly to hate. It takes us nowhere good. I cannot help but mourn the victims of each of these sad incidents. I ache to imagine the loss felt by so many. But sadness and loss are rooted in love. As mortals, love entails eventual loss, but without love what is living?
If our only goal in life is to preserve our beating hearts for as long as humanly possible, then, yes, this is indeed a dangerous world. But, the beating is of little meaning in a heart locked away. Recognizing death is inevitable, while living is a choice, what a wonderful world it can still be. We choose, and that’s something no terrorist can take away.