, Gloucester, MA

May 2, 2013

Insights and Outbursts: A far cry from 'back to normal'

Insights and Outbursts
Eileen Ford

---- — On Monday, April 15, I was at a poetry session at Ravenswood Park, listening to Margery McManus Leach read from her book “Captured by Long, Icy Winter.”

Later, I walked through the park and though I usually stay on main paths, took a smaller trail through the woods, certain that if I just turned around and followed it back to the main path, I couldn’t get lost.

I was wrong. Instead, I found myself out on the road, and after walking to the parking lot, drove home, turned on the TV and learned of the Marathon bombing.

After watching repeated footage of the horrific scenes in Boston, I turned off the TV and, later that day, heard a public radio interview with Northeastern University Professor Emeritus Edith Flynn. Now a terrorism expert, she was one of my criminal justice instructors in the 1970s, and someone I respected.

She reminded us that that April 15 was tax day as well as “Patriots’ Day” in Boston, and Timothy McVeigh’s bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma occurred on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, injuring over 800, the deadliest act of terrorism within the United States prior to Sept. 11, 2001, and so far, the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in United States history. According to Wikipedia, “McVeigh hoped to inspire a revolt against what he considered to be a tyrannical federal government. “

While runners raced toward the finish line in Boston, Washington was involved in three volatile issues: immigration, tax reform and gun control, all subjects capable of provoking anyone who believed his or her “rights” were violated by the government.

By the end of the week, gun control bills were defeated and once the Marathon bombers were identified as legal immigrants, one a U.S. citizen, immigration reform efforts slowed while Republicans called for the surviving suspect to be treated as an “enemy combatant” because “we are at war.”

I longed for the days when international and homegrown “terrorists” were captured and prosecuted - a time before we declared “war” on a tactic designed to inflict maximum damage on civilians – and after bombing and occupying other nations, killed innocent men, women and children ourselves, calling it “collateral damage.”

Tragic events often bring out the best and the worst in all of us. I appreciate the way law enforcement agencies worked together in Boston and was awed by the way first responders, doctors, nurses and ordinary citizens rushed to help others on that day. I mourned those who died, prayed for the injured and was touched by an interfaith service in Boston where politicians and prelates encouraged and inspired survivors and those who lost loved ones.

A week later, tired of speculative theories, including my own, I drove to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham on April 22, listening to music CDs instead of news.

The weather was sunny but cool, and while many animals sat quietly in their enclosures, three Gibbon Monkeys frolicked around their area, thoroughly enjoying themselves. Surrounded by the joyful cries of families and shielded from media reports, I breathed the fresh air and remembered those whose lives had been changed forever.

Much later, I headed toward my car and, noticing a black backpack on the ground in an almost empty parking lot, took it to the entrance booth. As I approached, a woman on a cellphone said, “I just called the State Police” as she and her children backed away from me.

Suddenly I realized that feeling “back to normal” wasn’t necessarily a shared experience, so I put the bag down and told zoo attendants I’d wait for the police since I was the one who moved the bag.

One of them came out of the booth laughing when I told her how foolish I felt, and realizing the “backpack” was actually a folded black “travel blanket,” she opened it, revealing nothing more sinister than a plaid lining.

The police were notified of the false alarm and I drove home, embarrassed but relieved that the bomb squad would not have to detonate a blanket that day.

Eileen Ford is a Rockport resident and a regular Times columnist.