Last weekend in Dallas, the George W. Bush Library went into lockdown after a man with a toy gun was mistaken for a man with a real gun. Stephen Harrigan was in the building when the false alarm happened, and he wrote about the experience for the Texas Monthly. It's a lucid look at how a certain sort of fear feels:
No one spoke. There were people praying, and people crying. But nobody really asked what was going on. That was maybe the oddest thing to me: we all knew what was going on. This was less than a month after the Boston Marathon bombings. It would turn out to be the day before gunmen opened fire on a Mother's Day parade in New Orleans. This was the attack we had been waiting for, preparing ourselves for, since 9/11. For me, at least, there was no sense of surprise, no sense of unfairness. The Bush presidential museum seemed a natural enough place for somebody to target, and I felt negligent for dropping my guard and blithely bringing my family here without imagining beforehand everything that could go wrong and forming some kind of escape plan.
"I knew this was going to happen," Charlotte said. She was whimpering in fear but she said this not as an existential complaint but just as a lucidly-stated fact. She's 29 and has lived for half her life with terrorism as an ominous background threat. I told her nothing was going to happen, but I couldn't get the right inflection into my voice to keep my reassurances from sounding anything but rhetorical….
But of course there was no threat. Nothing was happening. And after perhaps five minutes that fact became clear without anybody saying anything. There was no more coherent reason for it to be over than for it to have begun. In short order the moment of terror passed, the praying and crying tapered off, the ticket sellers reappeared at their booths.
Statistically speaking, neither bombings nor mass shootings are on the rise. But our subjective worlds are not made of statistics—or at least, our stats don't shape our worlds as much as media narratives and personal anxieties and big, unusual events do. "I felt negligent for dropping my guard and blithely bringing my family here without imagining beforehand everything that could go wrong and forming some kind of escape plan." In retropect that's kind of crazy, and I'm pretty sure Harrigan knows it's kind of crazy, but he also knows that most of his readers will understand why such a thought would cross his mind. That in the moment, such a thought might have crossed their minds too.