(written for a spiritual formation exercise, APTS, Fall 2018)
I’m standing at our worktable, cool air wreathing my ankles. The sliding doors are open; the mild September day is now a chilly evening, and my husband and I are taking advantage. Idly, I hear a first-responder’s siren. We don’t live far from the highway, after all.
I trim margins from another piece of paper. My stomach drops as if it’s on its own elevator. I feel nauseated. I want to cry. I realize: the sirens keep coming, and coming, and coming… there are too many of them. I realize: hearing those sirens, my body remembers the bomb.
I had to look it up — I remember it as winter, brown and grey, but it was just last March. March 18th, 2018. Time flies, whether we have fun or not.
The fear began earlier. Not for me personally—intimately, in myself—but for the wider Austin community. Particularly for the first two sites. These were both east of IH-35, both in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. The victims, who both died, were African-American men. I was worried, in a love-your-neighbor sense. The violence seemed particular; grievous, but particular.
On a Sunday night, my husband takes up his work for the week. Any more, on a Sunday night I resume my studies, both of us in our home office. The house is quiet for our work — no more Spotify streaming hip-hop or loud piano jazz for teens to study to, no more ‘Mama, do you know…’ interruptions woven into my focus.
A loud “wump,” and I cock my eye out our sliding doors. I knew I wouldn’t see anything; the garden and the trees screen us thoroughly. But the noise shook the glass in the doors. Maybe I turn to Marty and say something, so that we pause to decide it had been a power transformer exploding. That’s happened before, with a deep chesty noise like this one. But there’s no way to know, even when the sirens wail, and wail, and wail some more. We go to bed.
The text alerts and the robot phone calls tell us, multiple times through the night.
Don’t leave your house. Stay indoors. There was a bomb; those who need to be are looking.
So we do. We eat our breakfast as we always do, send emails to those authorities who need to know we won’t be coming. We go quietly back to work. We speak with the FBI agent who knocks on our door — they really do wear those jackets — and show our cars in our garage. No, we saw nothing. No, we have no security cameras. No, we cannot help you.
(On NextDoor) If we go Foster Ranch Road, we can leave single-file.
The front of the subdivision is filled with police and FBI vehicles.
You may leave at 10 am. You may leave at noon. You may leave at two. You may leave at 4.
(Over email) It was two boys, well, not boys anymore but new college grads, but you remember Will?
The bomb was filled with nails. The bomb had a tripwire across the sidewalk, tied to a “Children at Play” sign.
The nails severed the femoral artery of the boy walking his bike. They thought he would bleed out, but a neighbor gave first aid.
It didn’t happen to me. It was a mile or so away. Why did it happen here? We’re not anywhere: at the convergence of Barton Creek Greenbelt and two highways, the only reason to be here is because you live here.
I hear the privilege in my “not anywhere,” as if those other neighborhoods were “somewhere” that mine is not. I am ashamed, a sourness in my stomach.
The bomb in my well-to-do neighborhood explodes the myth of particularity that parts of the city had consoled itself with. (Not the parts where those young men died, of course.) I can tell, because it’s in the newspaper. I can’t tell whether they feel sour, too.
The following night I have a Session (church board) meeting. Ten minutes in, a friend pauses us all to mention that there’s been an explosion at a Goodwill store on his path home. I shake deep inside, not in my hands or legs. My throat is hot. I mutter, I can’t do this. I rise, walk outside, stand at the railing and sob. I can’t figure out what else will discharge the feeling. It’s as if it were static electricity, and I’m looking for a piece of metal. I am afraid/I am not afraid. The violence is just as near and just as far as it has always been, because it is without sense — I, who can make sense of nearly everything, cannot make a place for this.
The bomber is found within a week or so: the same day he came to my neighborhood he used our shipping store to send two more bombs, and so was on camera. His vehicle was on a neighbor’s security camera. This sense of threat/no threat stops. Life is usual again.
Until a breeze, and some sirens.
In the exercise, the listeners sit in silence, then consider — among other things — where do you hear connections to Scripture? Where do you find God in this?
Since it’s written to be an exercise for the listener, I’m leaving those questions for you to answer, too. So’s you know, there is no answer key. Our answers are for us, and for God.