Americans reflected often in the days, weeks and months following September 11, 2001, on the state of the "new normal" in our country. We had become a people stripped of naiveté, a nation on constant watch for abandoned packages, shoe bombers and all manner of suspicious behaviors, a society whose crowds -- whether they be produced by something as mundane as the need for travel or as joyous as a celebration of individual achievement -- always share unspoken questions. Could it happen here? Could it happen today?
On Monday, 11 and a half years after the worst terrorist attack ever on American soil, we experienced grim confirmation of this new condition in which we live. Yes, we can go on about our business. And the great triumph of our society is that we do. But we do it with a haunting awareness that we are not entirely safe.
It is difficult to find within that awareness any cause for comfort or consolation or even any satisfying higher lesson after something like the bombings at the Boston Marathon. We all know that life is uncertain, but this particular uncertainty -- the indiscriminate unleashing of horror (dear God, the heartless maiming of a 2-year-old, the murder of an 8-year-old child!) in a diabolical bid for attention -- brings an added sting because it is so pointlessly and cruelly absurd.
We Americans may split off into angry factions about how to manage guns in the aftermath of a horrific school shooting, but the one thing that unites us is our revulsion over the needless deaths. We may grumble and fret over the latest arrest of a would-be air terrorist, but we are united in our hatred for the cause that drove him. We unite in grief and shock and anger at the scenes from Boston streaming from our television and video screens. Whatever the repulsive purpose that produced those sad images, we will summon no sympathy for it.
Nor will we become cowed by the terror of it.
It is too soon to know with any certainty who is responsible for this latest abomination -- whether foreign terrorists, some domestic fringe group or just a sick loner seeking a global stage. But whatever the source, in this event as in all others, our everyday heroes will rise to the occasion of immediate need. Our investigators and our security experts will kick into action. Our friends and our families, if not directly harmed themselves, will reflect on our fortune and reinforce our affections.
Our president will promise, and no doubt our criminal justice systems will ensure that the perpetrators are found and that they will, in President Obama's phrase Monday, "feel the full weight of justice." It is a harsh reality in which to live and a bitter commentary on the climate of comfort, pleasure and security we struggle to foster for ourselves and our children. But it is not something that divides us or lures us away from our better dreams.
The agonies of this new normal await to sting us in our most unsuspecting hours. This we always know and of it we were sadly reminded on Monday. But they also unite us, and in that recognition perhaps we can take at least a measure of the comfort that is otherwise so excruciatingly elusive today.