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We're All Going to Die; Get Used to It

Did you hear about 18th Street being closed yesterday morning near I St. NW? Yep, police blocked off the road after a suspicious package was found. And what was the suspicious package? Here, in full, is the story that ran online yesterday:

D.C. police responded to a report of a suspicious package this morning at 18th and I streets NW that turned out to be an empty can inside a newspaper box. The investigation created traffic jams through the morning rush, but everything is now all clear.
D.C. police and fire officials were called to the scene about 8 a.m. and closed nearby streets to set up their emergency response.
Alan Etter, a spokesman for the D.C. Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, said the agency sent a battalion chief and equipment to the area "in case it was something harmful."
The scene was cleared at 9:45 a.m., and all streets have been reopened.

An empty can. Inside a newspaper box. Just imagine if it had been something really scary, like a Starbucks cup under a park bench or a cigar box on a fire hydrant.

This happens time and time again. If it isn't a misdirected UPS shipment that has us quaking in our boots, it's the possibility that we might catch a relatively mild form of an illness that many of us already deal with every year. We close streets. We close schools. Why?

Because we don't want to die.

Waa waa. Iddle American society is afwaid of dying.

There's a value in not wanting to die, of course. If we didn't give a hoot about living or dying it'd be hard to get things done. Our culture wouldn't progress. But it seems to me we've lost some balance. We're reaching the point where our obsession with not dying is taking some of the joy out of living.

I remember, not long after 9/11, walking down L St. with a colleague and pondering the possibility that something nearby might, at that very instant, explode. If you were in Washington then you may have experienced similar sensations. We were being advised to stockpile duct tape and plastic sheeting and it seemed like a terrorist dirty bomb might be ticking behind every azalea.

I wondered then if perhaps rather than going all "duck and cover" on us, the government shouldn't have said something along the lines of, "These are tough times and we think it's possible, likely even, that we will be attacked again. You may be killed. You may want to come to terms with that, to put your affairs in order and make peace with your deity. We will, of course, do our best to protect you, but we don't want to get to the point where we shut down city streets because of empty cans inside newspaper boxes. That would just be ridiculous. They may kill more of us, but they can't kill all of us. And besides, no one lives forever. Now's as good a time as any for you to learn that."

But maybe that's defeatist. No politician in America could afford to be so real. So we wear our lanyards and we shut down our streets and we close our schools and we tell ourselves we've cheated death for a little longer.

By John Kelly  |  May 5, 2009; 9:10 AM ET
 
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Comments

Wow. I had an azalea in my garden but I dig it out a few months ago. I'm gald I got rid of that sucker. It could have killed me!!

Posted by: justhere | May 5, 2009 9:41 AM | Report abuse

oops, I DUG it out, not DIG it out.

Posted by: justhere | May 5, 2009 9:43 AM | Report abuse

Will this post-9/11 psychosis ever leave us?

Posted by: mfromalexva | May 5, 2009 10:00 AM | Report abuse

I don't think it's entirely a post-911 phenomenon. We were already in collective pants-wetting mode for at least a good 10-20 years before that. If it wasn't one thing (Y2K) it was another (killer bees). And specific to DC, I worked near the White House in the late '90s and remember at least two incidents when the entire area was locked down for hours -- once because of a "suspicious package" that, I think, turned out to be an abandoned, empty suitcase, and once because someone thought they saw a sniper on a rooftop (that turned out to be a guy raising a flag).

Posted by: Janine1 | May 5, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Whoops, I meant post-9/11. (How ironic, considering how annoyed *I* get at people who refer to it as "911," thinking it's a clever double entendre.)

So, to answer mfromalexva's (rhetorical) question, my guess is probably not, or at least not anytime soon.

Posted by: Janine1 | May 5, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

I doubt we'll ever feel secure again. I have avoided the Metro subway system for years -- crowded, people walk in and out with bags, backpacks, briefcases, none of which is checked for weapons or explosives. Airports only start security at the departure gates. Anybody can walk in with a suitcase full of plastic explosives, sit it down and walk out without it being scanned. However, in a city as paranoid as DC is, we've always been obsessively nervous. One agency cleared blocks around the Treasury Building because of a called in report of a 'bomb on the steps.' Turned out to be a homeless bum on the steps sleeping it off.

I work with a woman who married a man from a middle eastern country. He came here, married her, converted her to his religion, adopted her kids (and changed their names from Christian names to Muslim names) and had two with her. So, one Muslim comes in to the US, now you have a family of 6 of them. Scares me to death.

Posted by: Baltimore11 | May 5, 2009 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Wow. I hesitate even to touch that one (by all means, you probably should stay home as much as possible -- the less you interact with society, the better for all concerned), except to point out that this country has produced a number of homegrown terrorists, not to mention mass shooters, serial killers, and so on. (I don't think I need to point out the predominant ethnicity and religious background of all of the above.)

Posted by: Janine1 | May 5, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

All this paranoia is pretty stupid. The average person is way more likely to be killed in a car accident than by the swine flu or a terrorist attack, but I don't see too many people avoiding their cars. (Wish they would; then traffic might not be so horrible!)

Maybe it's because people feel like if they avoid mass transit or keep their kids home from school, they actually have some control over events that are, for the most part, random. This is why I think people tend to fear plane crashes more than auto accidents: when you drive, you feel in control (though you of course have no power over anyone else on the road), but when you get on a plane you are handing over control of your fate to the pilot and crew.

Posted by: tmmm | May 5, 2009 1:08 PM | Report abuse

Just returned from 4 days in a hotel that had cable TV -- my excitement at this new-fangled medium dulled quickly when all that was on the news were flu and Specter. Over and over and over....no wonder people can think of nothing else. We're dumbing down and becoming lemmings.

Posted by: OldLady1 | May 5, 2009 11:38 PM | Report abuse

Yum

Posted by: L8yF8 | May 7, 2009 11:05 AM | Report abuse

I take the subway 5 days a week (sometimes more) because parking is such a hassle and so expensive.

I work about two blocks from the White House.

There is only so much you can do to protect yourself. Maybe you should move to a rural area and telecommute.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | May 8, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Um, who WANTS to die? Besides crazy jihadists and those wacked cult members, I wanna stay in the Land of the Living as LONG as possible!!! So, bite me. I wish I were immortal. I don't deny it one bit.

Posted by: sigmagrrl | May 8, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

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