There is a concept in math in which we describe a “supporting line.” Such a line is a line that lies entirely on one side of a set. This idea is most often found in geometry, but also has uses in theoretical economics, especially as it relates to game theory. When I think of such a line, I often remember Boston College, where I went to graduate school. Its main campus may be found entirely on one side of a main road, Commonwealth Avenue. I found myself thinking of this over the past week, since Commonwealth Avenue is part of the route taken by the Boston Marathon, and is the path taken by a mass of runners that pass by the campus on their way to the finish line. And now we find that the Boston Marathon is only the most recent element of modern American culture to be threatened by the violence of the world in which we now live.
I found out about the events in Boston when I picked my daughter up from her track practice on Monday. Her track coach was in Boston running the marathon, and finished before the horror unfolded. However, the other adults coaching her told the students about what happened, and assured them that their beloved coach was fine. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of all the runners or even of all the children in the area that day. I am horrified to learn of the carnage that is probably accurately being labeled “terrorism.” And as I learn of these things, I wonder how to talk to my daughter about terrorism, since this is the first time she has been aware of such horrors as they happened, or felt any personal connection to the events. Indeed, even talk of September 11 seems like ancient history to her.
And so I ask my readers, how do you talk to your children about such horrible events? And how do you make sure that knowledge of this darker side of human nature does not affect their sense of safety in the world? Certainly this is the extreme case of what we once taught them of as “stranger danger.” But now it is not strangers in the grocery store that one needs to be wary of. Now it is duffel bags left on the side of the road in what was once a festive occasion.
These questions were on my mind as I accompanied my daughter to the bus stop these past few mornings. As I hugged her goodbye and then watched her ride off, waving to me with a big smile on her face, I realized that her safety was the most important thing in my life right now. It is also something over which I seem to have less and less control.