Land of the Free and Home of the Brave

For most people, there is a time in their lives where they realize their own mortality. For many Americans, that moment was September 11th. When our national security was threatened and many were near – or knew someone near – New York, it began to sink in that our lives can be drastically altered at any moment. I, however, was in first grade at the time of 9/11, and didn’t understand the significance of what had occurred when it happened. For me, that moment was today.

Today, 13 at least were killed in a shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, DC. I heard the news. I visit Washington DC often, but I didn’t think much of it. I thought of the tragedy as most would – a tragedy, but a tragedy nonetheless removed from ourselves. I felt great sadness for the victims, but there was no way for me to possibly understand the gravity of happened. My view changed when I received a text from my boyfriend, telling me that the shooting happened just blocks from where we were last weekend by the waterfront.

I learned last week in psychology that we as humans take things that “almost happened” much more seriously than things that probably wouldn’t have. I think I understand now. While I certainly wasn’t at the Navy Yard itself, or I wasn’t there minutes before the shooting, realizing that I had been so close to that random destination just a week ago made me think a bit about my own mortality.

Life can change in an instant. There is no way to know when or where tragedy can strike, no way to predict and mitigate risks. When I first heard about the shooting and realized that I, in some weird way, was connected to the area, I found myself trying to rationalize what had happened, to put it in a lens that made me feel safe. I found myself trying to formulate a thought of “see, that’s why we shouldn’t…” or “you gotta be careful of…” and I realized I couldn’t come up with one. This tragedy was unexpected.

At first, that thought scared me. How was I supposed to avoid tragedy if I couldn’t predict it? How can I ever feel safe?

The answer is, I can’t. I can’t ever predict tragedy. I can’t ever guarantee safety.

As dismal as this might seem, I see it as a powerful reminder that life is short. Life is too short to worry about what might happen. No matter how much I try, I can’t predict what will happen. Tragedies can happen in the most tragedy-prone of places, such as the battlefield, or in locales completely random, as happened today. I can never completely avoid risk.

With the acknowledgement of fear comes the power to set oneself free from it. By realizing what a scary place the world can be, I hope to live life aware but not gripped by my fear of the unknown, the fear of the dangerous, the fear of the unpredictable. America calls herself the “land of the free and home of the brave.” I hope to call myself free and brave too: free from fear, and brave enough to know what a scary the world place can be, and yet embrace the joy that can be found there, too.

I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the victims of the Navy Yard shooting and their families.



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