In Light of Tragedy Don’t Get Absorbed by Shadows

I just couldn?t take seeing my cousin Scott?s picture in the obituaries. He died a couple days earlier, and I was already having a difficult time dealing with it, but seeing his face in the newspaper made me realize that he was truly gone.

I broke down?but I couldn?t break down for long.

Dressed in a shirt and tie, I had to attend a luncheon in honor of New York Times Columnist Tom Friedman?s visit to campus.

I wasn?t in the mood to schmooze with this group of administrative higher-ups and prominent community members (read ?donors?). The entire time, I thought about the make-shift haunted house we constructed as kids in Scott?s basement every October.

After the lunch, one administrator talked to me briefly and asked if I was scared to work in the Olympic Village because of the possibility of a terrorist attack. Others have asked me this question before, but this was the first time I truly thought about it.

The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has asked the University of Utah to produce the village newspaper. I will act as the editor in chief of this publication. This Games-time job will keep me busy seven days a week and place me right in the center of the athlete?s living quarters.

After the events of Sept. 11, my sense of safety was shattered. No longer did I feel completely secure in my home, in my car or in my office. Who knows when the next attack will take place?

Politicians are not treating this as a solitary event. Just last week a senior intelligence official told the Congress that there is a ?100 percent? chance that terrorists will strike the United States again.

Great.

I will sit in the heart of the Winter Olympics, a spectacle that will draw thousands of journalists and involve much of the world?a pretty nice target for the enemies of democratic pluralistic states everywhere.

Gov. Mike Leavitt tried to assure all Utahns that he will beef up security measures. The U.S. Congress gave millions to help the cause. These are necessary steps, taken not only to bolster the state?s efforts to keep its residents and its thousands of visitors safe, but also to give them the illusion of safety.

I don?t buy it.

One of the scariest things about terrorism is that it is unpredictable and not horribly difficult. Sure, it took years of planning to topple the twin towers, but smaller-scale terror operations don?t take more than a gun or a home made bomb.

I paused for a few seconds to think about these things before responding to the administrator. I told him no, I am not afraid in the slightest of my involvement in the Olympics.

I didn?t explain to him why, but my justification stemmed from seeing Scott?s picture in the obituaries that morning.

As when anyone close to you dies, you reflect about the sudden and unpredictable nature of death.

I grieve for Scott, for his family and for myself. I regret not spending more time with him the last couple of years. For me, he will always be a child, because that is when I knew him. This is sad, and this is out of my control now.

But what can I do?

I can lock myself up tight. I can avoid all risks. I can sit in my little office. I can divorce myself from the world, from the pain associated with the sudden severing of a personal relationship. I can, in essence, die.

But would this truly honor the memory of my lost cousin? Would it honor the memories of the thousands of people who died in the terrorist attacks?

Terrorism, and death for that matter, are ultimately out of my control.

I will produce that village newspaper every day the athletes are in Salt Lake City, not because I don?t want the terrorists to somehow win by making me afraid, but because I don?t want to lose the little control I have on my own life.

What the horrendously emotional month of September showed me is that I must capitalize on the plentiful opportunities around me. I must take time to spend with my loved ones. I must pursue my dreams and goals despite some small risks.

A bomb may rip apart the village, another family member may die, but what good would it do to fixate on such things?

The Sept. 11 attacks forced the nation to realize that America doesn?t sit in a bubble, and we are not as untouchable as we once thought.

Scott?s death forced me to realize that all of those dear to me are just as mortal as everyone else.

In conjunction, these two horrible happenings have given me a new way of seeing the world. I will do what makes me happy. I will be there for my family. However, there is no way I will walk around in fear.

Matt welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send a letter to the editor at: [email protected].