Member Blogs > ten pound island book companyPost-traumatic Heebie Jeebies

  • Sun, 20 Apr 2014 10:25:53    Permalink

    Got this spring's wood split and mostly stacked, the garden fenced in, peas and beets planted. All the books from Maritime List 222 are invoiced and mailed, and the office is cleaned up. Anne Marie and I are headed out Monday night for London, Dublin, and Cork. After four intense months of book buying and selling (Hartford, Wilmington, San Francisco, Pasadena, Washington, Greenwich, New York, and many points in between), I'm ready for a break.
    Of course, this left a void in the slot where the weekly "Bookman's Log" blog entry was supposed to go – I just didn't feel like talking about books, dammit. And, equally of coursely, thanks to nature's abhorrence of vacuums, the void filled immediately. But what filled it surprised me...
    All week, leading up to Monday's Boston Marathon, we in Massachusetts have been hearing about the terrible marathon bombing of one year ago. Airwaves, print media, and Internet are clogged with interviews, recollections, memorial tributes, special anniversary articles, essays, and news programs. Several books have resulted, and there's probably a movie in the works. By now everyone, no matter how disinterested in current events they might be, knows all the salient facts about the bombing – the twistedness behind it, the death and devastation in its wake, the exemplary behavior of first responders, and the inspirational coming together of area residents. Google "Boston Strong" and you get 1,560,000 hits.
    So why is this instinctive and heartfelt rallying cry beginning to annoy me?
    Well, for one thing, I've got a low tolerance for grieving as a public rite. I've had some experience with grief, as we all have, and I understand the need for it, the use of it, the progression through different levels and kinds of suffering. And I understand that, although there is always some part of a person's grief that no one can touch, grief also responds well to company. When a family experiences tragedy, neighbors show up to babysit, provide hot meals, and simply listen. Humanity at its best.
    However, it seems to me that most public grief events carry a whiff of political and financial motivation. I'll never forget, shortly after 9/11, trying to drive through downtown New Haven only to be stuck in a traffic jam caused by firemen going from car to car with boots that we were supposed to fill with money in honor of "First Responders." How did 9/11 become a national fireman's event? Were they ALL there? Thus Pearl Harbor turned into a battle cry. More progressive social legislation was passed in the name of JFK then he could have engineered in two full terms. Princess Di and Marilyn Monroe, post mortem, sold millions of copies of an Elton John song. You get my drift.
    Or maybe you don't, and I'm just an old crank in need of a long vacation.
    I think Boston Strong is beginning to emit a similar odor. How many tee shirts and baseball caps are being sold in the name of those unfortunate victims? How many newspapers (including my own, starving, Gloucester Daily Times) are attempting to boost circulation with articles on "Strong?" Two of the morons on Moron Sports Talk Radio spent an hour interviewing a double amputee who'd written a book about his life since the bombing. Truly an inspirational story, except the morons seemed more interested in reviling the "maggots" who committed the act than honoring the young man who survived it. Self righteous orgasms of outrage over the fact that we supplied the bombers with food stamps and Pell grants. Etc., etc.
    We, the public, seem to have a bottomless need to be better than the villain of the moment, whether it's Gerry Sandusky or the Tsarnaev brothers. We make them celebrities so we can revile them. We might feel badly about our individual failings as parents, friends, or spouses, but compared to the latest serial killer or, God forbid, dog abuser, we're looking pretty good.
    Maybe it's tragedy fatigue, but I'm starting to get the paranoid suspicion that Boston Strong is in part subliminal advertizing for a deeper and more complex concept that might be characterized as "America Strong". You know – the land of Ford Tough, taking charge with Viagra. Bastion of democracy, leader of the Free World. Yadda yadda. I did my four years in the Navy, 1967-71, and we all know what was going on then. I, like you, watched the Weapons of Mass Destruction lies unravel. Saw untenable political agendas destroy the lives of soldiers and their families. The jingoistic undertones of mass-market tragedy branding give me post-traumatic heebie jeebies. How much of Boston Strong is B.S.?
    "But Greg," you're saying. "It's not about grieving. This is a celebration of our resilience, our triumph over tragedy!"
    Oh, really? What was the alternative? Was the city of Boston truly going to become totally unraveled because of the bombing? Were police, firemen, and bystanders not going to respond? Were hospitals not going to treat the injured? Were the people not going to contribute – in all sorts of ways – to the support of the victims and their families?
    We all did well because that was what we were supposed to do. That was what we were able to do. That's the luxury America's wealth affords us. We (most of us) were fortunate enough to be born into a (mostly) healthy, prosperous society. We don't need to feed on one another. This ain't Somalia.
    What Boston Strong wakens in me (maybe there's a similar feeling somewhere out there among the 1.5 million Google entries) is the realization of the blessing of my dumb luck at having been born into the height of America's prosperity, in a society so buttoned down that this event – no worse than the hundreds of bombings, massacres, rapes and assassinations that pass unreported every day in the world's more troubled areas – can shake us to the core.
    Yes, the marathon bombing was a terrible tragedy brought about by deeply sick human beings. It shattered our innocence, our sense of security, our enjoyment of a wonderfully quirky local celebration. And yes, those on the scene behaved magnificently, as did the cops, as we all did in the terrible hours and days that followed.
    But, while I'm sitting on my couch tomorrow watching the marathon and the ballgame, I'll hit the "mute" button every time a Boston Strong moment comes on, and instead offer up a silent prayer of thanks for the profound blessing of having been born into a time and place of hitherto unimagined prosperity – a prosperity we may never see again.
    All right. I'll go quietly now...

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