When I wrote yesterday, I mentioned a conversation with a nursing colleague from West Virginia University in which she indicated that she thought my idea of blogging/journaling out my issues was clever. Today, I had a meeting with a colleague from the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. He had known that I was running the Boston Marathon. After another colleague I had not seen since April 15 came to say hello, my colleague commented on how much he felt bad about not asking about the race. When I mentioned my blogging, he reminded me that he had begun as a clinical nurse working for the Department of Veterans Affairs and that he had worked with many veterans who suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. In our roles as evidence-based researchers, he pointed out that there is actually good evidence that journaling (I’m not sure whether it included both privately and publicly in a blog form) could help with post traumatic stress issues. That is good news for me. Perhaps my 26 petals into the wind idea will work.
Yet, I have to say that the news of the past day has also illustrated to me just how complex emotions and feelings around a negative event can be. The news this morning indicated that the two accused on causing the explosions at the Boston Marathon had actually been planning to attack the July 4 celebration in Boston. However, it appears that when the two who were accused realized that they had all the materials and could assemble the bomb early and they saw the preparations for the Boston Marathon they decided that would be a good target.
When I started the process of writing 26 essays, I thought that all I had to overcome was what I was feeling and what I knew on the day I began. I had not anticipated the fact that more news would come out. And that as more news came out, my brain, my heart, and my soul would have to process and figure out what to do with this information. I thought that I could be rational about putting the stresses, strains, and heartfelt pains of April 15 behind me as rationally as I would make a career decision or a decision about the next project to take on at work. I had not completely realized that emotions are not something that can be dealt with as rationally as other choices in life.
Why do I find the new news that the Boston Marathon may not have been the original target of the bombers disturbing? Well, it comes along with desiring things to be rational. As just noted, I hoped that my emotional pain could be dealt with rationally. But it cannot. From the first moment that the bombing was revealed on April 15, I hoped that the explosions could be explained rationally, but they cannot.
Why would rationality make me feel more comfortable? I am not sure. I can always ask why anyone would bomb the Oklahoma City federal building. To me it makes no sense. But at least there was a clear target. I can ask why anyone would take the even more hideous action of crashing airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. There seemed to be a purpose. It was not a good purpose. There would be no good purpose. But at least I can understand the target and the motivation—even if a wholeheartedly disagree with both.
In contrast, we have the events of April 15. Two men who didn’t seem to have much of a plan other than to cause havoc. Two men who may have had a plan but who changed the plan on a whim. Two men who appear to have struck out at whatever was the nearest big event that just happened to come along. That is something that I truly cannot comprehend and that for some reason bothers me more. At least when there was a clear target, I can understand how I might avoid being present at a target. But when individuals choose simply to strike out in what seems like a completely random way there is no way to avoid it. There is no where to run (no pun intended) or hide. There is simply a need to accept the fact that there is always a risk.
This actually bring me to an important concept from economics. The difference between risk and uncertainty. Risk is something that is known. Something that is understand. There is a risk of dying when running a marathon due to a cardiac event. That risk is not well defined but there has been some research. I can look up the figures. I can understand it. I can describe it. I can communicate it to others.
But the unpredictability of the possibility of a terror attack at a race is true uncertainty. Even if I disagreed vehemently with some of the policies Donald Rumsfeld advocated when he was in the Bush Administration, I liked one thing he said. It was something to the effect of distinguishing between the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns. Or that sometimes a person doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.
I know the risk of dying from running a marathon. I don’t know if it will happen to me. But I understand what I don’t know. Contrast that with the possibility of a terror attack. I have no idea of what the risk is. I have no way of defining that risk any more accurately. I suppose I could say that I know that I don’t know the risk. But I don’t even know where the risk would come from.
Running a marathon—I control the risk of death from running a marathon. Terror incident during the marathon—no control. Terror incidents in general in seemingly random places. No control.
I don’t insist on having control over everything in life. But I do like to have some appreciation for how much control I lack. In this case, I simply have no way to conceptualize the lack of control.
This realization makes me appreciate how complex it will be to move past the events of April 15. Twenty-six essays will help. They may or may not move me completely past the events. Only time will tell.