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When It Is Hard To Think About Anything Else

By Rich Heldenfels Published: April 16, 2013

We all go through periods in life when one thing goes wrong, and then another, and then we get some fresh horrible news, and as we try to deal with it all, it's as if a cloud has fallen over our minds and spirits -- and we keep asking ourselves when all this will end. The pain we feel over the individual parts of the troubles is awful enough. But the real struggle is with that cloud of weariness, the exhaustion. What will happen next, we wonder, when we are so tired of all that has happened already?

More than the scenes of carnage in Boston, this is what stays with me. Depending on your age, you may be thinking of 9/11, Oklahoma City, the first World Trade Center attack, Atlanta,  overseas acts of terrorism, assassinations, assassination attempts -- but the older you are, the more that is dredged up by each new nightmare. Because the acts are not all specifically connected -- different methods, different villains -- we are left with a sense that anything awful is possible at any time. It almost doesn't matter if the Boston culprit or culprits are found. There's someone else out there. However vigorous our efforts to stop the terror, it will still appear --  even those actions that are detected and prevented add to our sense of limitless possiblity of new horror; we stopped this, but not that.

We have seen this sense of helplessness in popular culture, in the juxtaposing of investigation with terror acts in "Zero Dark Thirty," in the embrace of seeming randomness and chaos by the Joker -- a terrorist par excellence -- in "The Dark Knight." But, because those are films that come and go in a couple of hours, they can only suggest what it feels when terror goes on for years, arriving suddenly and unexpectedly, and dragging us down; as we are supposed to go about our days and our work, it's almost impossible to put aside the thought of what has happened, and what might happen next. The weariness of the moment may pass. But, just as we begin to feel lighter again, something else will come, and our exhaustion will be at once more immediate, and far deeper.

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