"On the eighteenth of April, in seventy-five." The first Patriots Day marked the time when a group of upstart colonists took an irrevocable step toward making a new nation. On this day, we look at Monday's carnage in Boston and wonder whether something fundamental has broken in our land. From henceforth, admiration for the grit and tenacity it takes to run the 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon will be jostled by hateful images - two puffs of smoke, a runner falling to the ground, police and rescue workers scrambling to render assistance not knowing if or when another blast would occur.
Perhaps this is a week singled out for disaster. Last night, another blast rocked a small town deep in the heart of Texas. Initial reports implicate anhydrous ammonia at a fertilizer plant as the culprit, but we don't know for certain. At this hour, there are even fears that the dead will include volunteer firefighters who were evacuating nursing home residents from a fire at the plant at the time of the explosion.
Many studies have shown that we humans are poor at assessing the relative risks from different activities. In an earlier phase of my career, I instructed trainees in the prevention of flammable mixes in a gasworks, reminding them of the steps required to minimize known job hazards. Objectively, the risks from such industrial hazards are greater, yet we seem to fear the nameless malevolence of accidents less than we do the intentional act of targeting innocent bystanders. Industrial hygienists continue to develop new protective measures against quantifiable hazards. We have very little understanding of how to reach into the depths of human hearts and rip out the embedded malice that considers the murder of an eight year old boy an acceptable price for making a statement.
While we offer prayers and condolences to the victims of both Boston and West, we need to remember that we need to look at ourselves as well. A Russian proverb quoted by Solzhenitsyn states, "You shouldn't have looked in the village [for trouble], but in yourself." Life has enough sorrows without allowing ourselves to be the agents - either knowingly or not - of compounding the sorrows of others.