Our hearts were broken - again. Senseless, indiscriminate, violent tragedy struck Boston on Patriots Day, and with it came a grim reminder of the fragility of life.
In the Middle Ages, many believed that their lives were governed by Fortuna de Rota-the Wheel of Fortune. Their hopes and dreams, successes and failures, indeed, their very lives were in the grip of an arbitrary wheel of fate and fortune. There was neither predictability nor security; life was fragile.
We no longer believe that our lives are in the hands of a mystical, arbitrary fate or fortune, of course, but we recognize, nonetheless, the tentativeness of life, despite our best efforts to create security for ourselves. In our time, we have erected measures and mechanisms to gain control of our lives. We have studied science and medicine, established governmental institutions, enacted rules, regulations and laws, funded law enforcement agencies, emphasized education, and preached the senselessness of violence. Still, we suffer it. Oklahoma City. New York. Tucson. Aurora. Newtown. And now, Boston.
At the finish line of the Boston Marathon, an iconic sporting event that draws runners from around the world, including some 90 Idahoans, three people were killed and nearly 200 injured. Terrorism, death and traumatic injuries, indeed, life-altering injuries, have now become part of the Marathon's storied history.
The physical legacy of the lethal bombs - ordinary pressure cookers loaded with BBs, nails and pellets - is particularly cruel for many of its victims. Designed to inflict vicious blows at a height of two feet above ground, the shrapnel tore through leg muscles that, for athletes competing in the Marathon, had been the object of vigorous, exhausting training for months and years. The result - severe leg trauma and amputation - stole from runners an activity that they dearly loved.
Many of the casualties were spectators - friends and family members cheering on their champions. Others were ardent sports fans, enthralled by an event that is the focal point of a state holiday celebrating Patriots Day, marking the battles at Concord and Lexington. Their loss, like that of the athletes, is a stark reminder of the indiscriminate mayhem that can be inflicted by the hands of a terrorist-or terrorists-homegrown or foreign, anytime, anywhere.
The stunning act of terrorism at the Boston Marathon, the horror and carnage televised across the globe, is a sober reminder of the violence that surrounds us. On average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are in America roughly 85 gun-related deaths a day - 53 by suicide and 32 involved in homicides. That loss of life doesn't begin to receive the attention that the tragedy in Boston received, yet it is no less real and no less significant for those affected. For the record, it is projected by the CDC that gun-related deaths will exceed traffic fatalities in the United States by about 2015.
In the face of indiscriminate violence, terrorist acts that including maiming and murder, we may well relate to the world of uncertainty that governed thought in the Middle Ages. Answers to our questions about the violence at the Boston Marathon - who and why - may be ascribed to mental illness, ideological hatred and motives of revenge, but the eventual ascription of the cause will, for its victims, be as unsatisfactory as the attribution of loss by our forbears centuries ago.
So what is the American reaction to the act of terrorism in Boston? Sadly, our experience with terrorism, in places as different as Oklahoma City and New York, is instructive. We recalibrate and move forward. Don't we always "move forward"? And we do it through emphasis on unity and brotherhood. Bostonians, sounding like Texans, warn the perpetrators: "Don't mess with this city."
You know that the spirit of brotherhood is afoot when New York Yankee fans, in honor of their dreaded rivals, the Boston Red Sox, sang in the bottom of the third inning on Tuesday night, that old Boston favorite, "Sweet Caroline." For many, life will never again be normal; for others, the resumption of a normal life may take months and years. But what we have learned from tragedy is that life is fragile, that it can be taken suddenly and without notice. We don't know where the finish line is, but we move forward.
David Adler is the Cecil D. Andrus Professor of Public Affairs at Boise State University, where he serves as Director of the Andrus Center for Public Policy.