Aftershocks

The tension has lifted here in Massachusetts. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the trees are leafing, the forsythias are in bloom. Friends and family in Greater Boston who were locked in their homes all day Friday as FBI and police tracked down the fugitive Marathon bombing suspect have enjoyed a beautiful weekend of freedom. Neil Diamond flew to Boston on his own dime to sing “Sweet Caroline” with cheering Red Sox fans on Saturday afternoon, and our boys beat the Kansas City Royals, 4-3.

b_strong_blueAll weekend we’ve been sharing stories of near misses: friends who spent three hours at the Marathon finish line, right where the first bomb was planted, only to leave five minutes before it detonated to catch the T; friends whose apartment overlooks Boylston Street and felt the blasts; another who discovered his home is a few short blocks from the suspects’ Cambridge apartment pipe-bomb stash; a friend who chose not to run this year, who probably would have been crossing the finish line right at the deadly moment.

Surreal is the only word that describes this past week. It feels like we’ve all been living in a Hollywood disaster movie—except it actually happened. There is a collective sense of relief that it’s over, shared grief for the victims and their families, and pride in how Boston rose to meet this horrible tragedy.

But there is also a heightened sense of vulnerability—so many innocents struck by a random, senseless act of violence. And so many tiny decisions that led one person to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and another, equally innocent, to stay clear of harm’s way.

The reality, however, is that we’re always vulnerable. Life is full of risks, all the time. The chance of being struck down by a terrorist’s homemade pressure cooker bomb is significantly lower than the chance of being struck by a drunk driver or the chance of being stricken by a debilitating, chronic disease.

We compartmentalize our awareness of most risks, because we live with them every day. As long as we don’t ignore risks completely, but take reasonable precautions, we’re undoubtedly better off, because to focus on what-if’s all the time is to become paranoid and paralyzed.

But living with a chronic illness, whether it’s scleroderma or one of a thousand other diseases, brings a sharper, lingering awareness of vulnerability, because it forces you to face your own mortality sooner than you might otherwise.

If you’re managing your disease well enough, that awareness is more like white noise in the background unless you have a flare-up. When something like this past week’s horrific event occurs, the sense of threat intensifies. It’s not only the fear, What if it had been me? It’s also the fear, How would my chances of survival or escape have been further compromised by my illness?

This is not to minimize, in any way, the real losses suffered by the victims of the blasts and their loved ones. It’s just the nature of aftershocks. If I were stronger and healthier, I probably wouldn’t have been quite as frightened, and I probably would have gotten more sleep this past week.

I have no answers to all the what-if’s. I have no idea what I would have done if I had been there. I’m profoundly grateful that I wasn’t. My thoughts and prayers go to all those who lost lives and limbs, and my thanks, to those who saved so many. I hope it never happens again. I fear that it will.

We live in a dangerous world. All we can do, the only thing we can really control, is our focus—to appreciate fully every moment that we have, and never take our lives, however complicated and challenging, or those we love and who love us, for granted.

Image Credit: Boston Red Sox

Evelyn Herwitz blogs weekly about living fully with chronic disease, the inside of baseballs, turtles and frogs, J.S. Bach, the meaning of life and whatever else she happens to be thinking about at livingwithscleroderma.com.

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