Terrorist attack. Suspect shot by police. Four dead. Innocent lives. Lone assailant. Chaos, panic, fear.
Maybe it’s because I’m an American, maybe it’s because I reached adulthood in the shadow of 9/11, or maybe it’s because I deployed to Afghanistan twice, but I feel I have become numb to news like this. I wonder, is it so much that terrorist attacks are more common, or that the media is getting better at reporting them? Perhaps both.
Am I wrong to want more precise terms when atrocities like this happen? Don’t give me “lives lost,” “attacker sanitized,” “police dispatched the threat,” or “target destroyed.” Use real words, words like “kill” and “dead.” Everyone shies away from these hard words. Yet, you wouldn’t say, “I lost my dog yesterday.” I would ask you where he was last seen and if anyone has found him. It’s ludicrous to use such watered down terms. I saw this in the military, but in reverse. Our words were beefed up, macho: target prosecuted, threat eliminated, code name down. I never wanted the news of my death to reach my family – were I shot down and killed in a combat zone – as some politically correct version of the awful truth. Make a factual statement explaining what happened using specific words. A single individual drove his car along the sidewalk of Westminster Bridge, killing two people and injuring up to 40, then stopped, got out, and attacked and killed an unarmed Metropolitan Police officer with a knife before he was fatally shot by an armed policeman.
I don’t know if hearing about terrorist attacks, mass murders, nightclub shootings, hate crimes, and all the other shit of the world makes us numb to everything, including the delivery method, but words still mean things. I don’t want the truth to be sanitized. I don’t want to be able to gloss over it and finish my coffee. I don’t want my life to continue like nothing major happened. I want to be sick to my stomach. I feel like so much of today’s society is under the Numbing Syndrome, a term I just invented, for seemingly everyone thinking it’s normal to turn on the T.V., open up the news app on their phone, tune in the radio to what’s happening and learn about yet another horrific event involving murder, death, and killing. The tactics evolve. Planes become weapons. Vehicles become weapons. People become weapons. But the outcome is always the same: innocent people die because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I worry I am too numb.
How can we fight back? Not against these terrorist attacks and hate crimes and shooting sprees, but in guarding our minds against normalizing the news of these acts? Treat each event as its own terror. Absorb the news fully, not just the surface scratchings from the frantic moments of first reporting. Talk about it. Get angry. Muse. Contemplate. Mourn. Try not to lump this horror in with the others inevitably stacked up in our minds from the past week, month, year, decade, lifetime. Our hearts harden a little more every time, but allow them to bleed, even momentarily, for the new innocents who have died through hate. We will carry the memory with us for a long time, and we should, the scars on our hearts and minds fresh and raw. Fully feeling when the bad news hits means we have embraced life and rejected the notion of attacks as normal. They are not normal. Remember that life is wonderful. The world is beautiful. People are good and kind and generous. These truths outweigh the hate and violence and depravity and make life worth living, enjoying. Love will conquer hate, even if it has to don body armor and a helmet. And when the time has come to pick ourselves up, straighten our backs, lift our pack, and continue on with our lives, do so.