April 16, 2013

The Marathon Bombing and Popsicle Stick Etiquette

Many years ago, Lily and I toured the ancient city of Nazareth with our Haifa friends and their three kids.  It was hot, so all the kids were eating popsicles.  Lily finished her treat.  She wanted to throw away her popsicle stick.  She scanned the city street for trash cans.  We walked a few blocks, and without a garbage receptacle in sight, she asked our friends what to do with her leftover stick.  They told her to throw it on the ground.  She protested: “That’s littering!”

A burst of Hebrew and laughter among the Israeli kids. Lily and I wanted to know what they found so funny.  “If you leave a trash can,” one of the boys shouted, “they put bombs!”

Stupid, naive Americans.  Even a nine year old should know better than to look for a sidewalk trash can.  So you litter.  Who cares?  It’s better than giving terrorists an easy place to leave an IED.

Though Israeli friends didn’t laugh after the World Trade Center bombing, they again expressed dismay at our national naivete. Who would fly an airplane without locking the cockpit door? That, of course, is now standard practice on all U.S. flights, but El Al put that provision in place decades ago.

At 2:50 PM yesterday, I was working at my desk.  I heard two very loud booms. I checked weather.com for thunderstorms.  It never occurred to me that what I’d heard were two bombs detonating.

We don’t know yet how bombs wound up at the marathon’s finish line or where they were placed.  Initial analysis points to on-street trash cans or U.S. Postal Service mailboxes.  And we don’t know who perpetrated such destruction (although I firmly suspect this was yet another bunch of homegrown sickos).

There are any number of reasons to be furious at whoever planned and carried out the bombing.  Number one, to me, is the inexorable slide towards a way of thinking that forces us to scan every landscape and imagine every potential encounter in terms of terrorism.  If we didn’t know it before, surely we Americans now have to embrace an Israeli-style popsicle stick etiquette.  We are getting hard lessons in conclusion jumping, even though we do not, with all our hearts, want to be enrolled in this particular school.

The Boston Globe‘s reporters provided brilliant coverage of yesterday’s bombing.  Several writers referred to a “loss of innocence.”  I’m not sure what is worse: having to let go of the assumption that the world is mostly a benign place — or having to grow up in a place where even children know better than to assume that loud sounds are thunder and public rubbish bins are for trash.