There’s Someone at the Door
I used to enjoy watching the TV show American Gothic. It began with disturbing images of a Southern town with Sheriff Lucas Buck who had piercing eyes and the devil’s own smile. At the end of the opening sequence a child in a rocking chair would repeat the haunting phrase, “There’s someone at the door.” The child pronounced that last word, “doah.” I would shiver in anticipation of the sheriff’s arrival.
Tonight I realized that I used to think the worst thing that could happen was that evil would come to the door. It would want to come in and I would need to stand fast against its entry. I know now that the movie When a Stranger Calls is infinitely more frightening. In it, the police call the babysitter and tell her that the terrifying calls she has received all evening are coming from inside the home. That has to be worse, right? Once evil has invaded, there is no place to run and no place to hide.
There is nothing on TV tonight other than the resolution of the Boston Marathon bombing incident. In less than a week we have watched innocent citizens celebrating a civic exercise that marries the finest elements of parade, fitness, and pride get shredded by makeshift bombs assembled in pressure cookers, packed in ubiquitous backpacks. In an instant, mundane household items became sinister. Soon they will be emblems of terror like the trench coats worn at Columbine. We will find ourselves studying with swiftly dispelled suspicion the appendages we strap onto the backs of children before sending them off to school and the utensils we employ to put dinner on the table when they come home safely.
Tonight we “know” the two brothers who plotted to disrupt the event. They killed four people, including a young police officer gunned down last night. They maimed more than 150 others. They wounded countless bystanders, first responders, healers, and witnesses who are deeply troubled by the prospect of domestic terrorism. Some of this week’s victims lost family or friends, limbs, good health, freedom of movement, peace of mind, and more. Those two brothers were their parents’ “angels” and our neighbors until they became our nightmares.
As our nation cheers a bipartisan bill that could help us resolve our nation’s immigration issues, we learn that the evil came from inside our borders. Two brothers who we sheltered when they left the battle-torn nation of Chechnya attacked us. It took locking our doors and sheltering inside to finally uncover the last of the brothers. He sought shelter in someone else’s stored boat and was finally located and captured. Capture helps, but it does not heal us.
As soon as we drew a deep breath of relief the newscasters threw us back into every dreadful memory so that none could be suppressed and each could be explored again. New images of families facing funerals and painful “recoveries” are carrying us through to the late news hour. Grieving families are interviewed in front of cameras so that we can “share” their losses and “appreciate” them more fully.
The local news tonight was all about April floods in Chicago. People shored up their homes with sandbags. They operated sump pumps. They dragged treasures to higher ground. In some cases they lost their battle with the elements and fled the safety of their own homes to save their lives. The water invaded everything in its path. Many flood victims have lost things they valued greatly or just took for granted, including peace of mind.
At one point this evening I turned the volume of my TV way down and fired up the computer so that I could catch up with the Freshly Pressed blogs at WordPress.com. I read the chemotherapy and cancer blog postings of the day and checked out the blogs of people who visited my blog and left a posting. It was the same message. People wrote of the fear that cancer had come to their doors. They wrote of their reactions to the news that it had invaded in stages. They had excised some or “all” of it–in some cases before its presence could even be verified. They wrote of surgeries, poisonings, and radiations.
They also spoke of their terror and grief. They worried about their families. They measured the collateral damage of a cancer diagnosis on lives from the epicenter of the disease to its furthest societal victims.
In the midst and in the wake of these treatments the authors of many of my favorite blogs spoke of the fear that lingers even after a declaration of NED (no evidence of disease) or remission. I share their concern. A number of the postings I read tonight discuss the fact that everyone has cancer cells inside but most of us have too few of those cells to measure or worry over.
Some of us are like the town folk in that Southern TV town. We can barricade the doors. Some of us are like the flood victims. We can shore up the walls. We can stand guard with mops and pumps. Some of us are like the babysitter. The thing we fear most invades and we fear it will come for us again. Some of us will react to cancer the way others will react to the news that our domestic terrorists were once welcomed immigrants. We will give up the things that once comforted us: sugar, dairy, fat, meat, tap water, leisure, even air. Once you know the chinks in your fortress and the terror of having found what frightens you most has crawled inside, you get a little crazy about rooting it out. The sad thing is that once you have found what scares you most has burrowed inside you know that you can never be safe.
The message of hope in the movies, the national tragedies, and the personal challenges is that we do go on. We may study strangers’ faces on the street in search of strangeness. We may even go out and buy a gun (even though domestic terrorists were located and captured in four days without a single citizen’s resort to a handgun). We may startle when someone is at the door. We may look over our own shoulders at the creak of a floor board. We may study our river views with jaded gazes. We may regard a former comfort food with suspicion. But we will grow tired of our super-vigilance.
At the end of the day we will slide between sheets and rest our cheeks on cool pillowcases. Whether we toss and turn, shed tears, or open our mouths wide in soundless horror, we will eventually drift off to sleep. Dreams may offer no relief. Sleep may ease no pains. But we open our eyes at last to a new day. And, in time, all of us hope that the someone at the door brings us help, reassurance, answers, company, or a tuna casserole. It is this resilience that sustains us in times of tragedy. It is this resilience that makes us get up and open the door.