26.2: At the Finish Line
There have been three incidences that can be called terrorist attacks that have struck close to where I was living at the time. The first was 9-11. Even though we think first of the Twin Towers, we remember that the Pentagon was also hit. After having been told what had happened, and after immediate things I had to do, I went to the chapel and the first thought that came to me was “things are never going to be the same”. I don’t know why I thought about the future rather than the immediate, but it might have been due in part to not knowing what the Twin Towers were at the time, and not knowing the extent of the damage or number of lives lost in New York or Washington or Pennsylvania. Even though the attack hit close to home, there wasn’t the sense of danger
The second was the sniper attacks in the DC area, many of them at gas stations including one in Manassas. These sniper attacks were much more unnerving to me. Unlike 9-11, it wasn’t a hit and done – it was ongoing over an extended period of time. I felt strange walking out of the house or out of Seton and very uneasy at a gas station. One never knew if danger was near, but certainly it was always on one’s mind.
The third was the Aurora theatre shooting. I found out about it at Mass the following morning. The attacker was immediately in custody, so the threat was over by the time I knew anything about it. Even though there was a victim from our parish, and other victims that my nephew and niece knew, there was not the element of fear. Like 9-11, there was a remoteness about it, and there was no apparent continuing threat.
I think back to growing up in the ‘60’s. Every night there was terrible news broadcast. There was always something about the Viet Nam War. There was often something about a race riot in a city somewhere in the United States. Then there were the student demonstrations at colleges from coast to coast, worst among these the “Kent State Massacre”. These things followed the assassination of JFK and the subsequent shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald which were televised. I was in my first grade classroom when Kennedy was killed, but I was at home and the TV was on when Oswald was shot.
For me, the impression I had was that the world was in chaos, and I don’t think that impression was far from the truth. I worried a lot as a kid. Probably I haven’t changed much.
In studying Shakespeare I learned that in his tragedies he would often have the most tragic, unnerving scenes followed by a bit of comedy. This comedy had the purpose of “psychic distancing”. The purpose of a tragic play was not to engross the audience too deeply in the tragedy, making them emotional wrecks and preventing the individual from being able to draw deeper meaning from the drama since emotionally wracked people don’t always reason the best. The comic scene would give a break to the viewer. It would take him away from the horror and give him a chance to consider what the characters in the play had to teach about human nature, life in general and ultimate realities including our final destination.
It must be that we all learn to practice psychic distancing. Those who take it to an extreme are considered cold hearted. Those who are not so inclined toward it are more compassionate when considering even remote events such as natural disasters and human perpetrated tragedies.
Given that abortion on demand came in the ‘70’s and more frequent and more horrible things are constantly in the media, psychic distancing would seem to be at a premium nowadays – almost a continuous act.
It seems to me that the most profitable psychic act is not specifically a distancing, but rather an elevating. That which Shakespeare wanted his audience to do, that is, to consider ultimate realities in a staged tragedy, is specifically what we are called to do in the real world when we have to face tragedy. The only way to assimilate tragedy is through knowing, in the whole mystery of God’s Providence, it has a purpose and there will be an ultimate good drawn from it. That’s what the Faith teaches, and it is what is ours to learn. Shakespeare’s staged tragedies were resolved with order being restored. Heaven is the ultimate real resolution.
Jezu, ufam Tobie.