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We won’t give in to madmen

This is why the metal detectors are there now, beeping and buzzing us into the places where we play our games. It’s why we hold out our arms and unzip our jackets and spread our legs while the wand passes up one inseam and down the other, while it travels from armpit to fingertip and then (please, sir) from the other armpit to the other fingertip.

The illusion of safety. That’s what we’re all after here.

And so the metal detectors and the wanding and the bag searches – some perfunctory, some not so – and, if it’s a Super Bowl, the bomb-sniffing dogs. Because these are our spectacles, our circus, and with spectacle comes dark opportunity. And once that dark opportunity is acknowledged or assuaged or dealt with, at least in our minds, then the games can begin.

And yet it is an illusion, in the end. If nothing happens – this time – to shatter that illusion, it’s not because it can’t, or won’t. It’s just that it didn’t.

Monday in Boston we weren’t so lucky.

Monday in Boston, there was one explosion, and then another, and then blood and Baghdad 2004 everywhere. Medical personnel standing by with their first aid and their IVs for dehydrated runners were suddenly confronted with shrapnel wounds and traumatic amputations.

An iconic holiday in an iconic American city became a day of horror. And the Boston Marathon and the Masters post-mortem and Jackie Robinson Day in the majors all got chased out of the news cycle by an awful and dawning reality.

Which is: This was going to happen sooner or later. And will again, sooner or later.

If not the Boston Marathon, then a Super Bowl. If not the Super Bowl, then the Rose Bowl. If not the Rose Bowl, then a golf major or an Indianapolis 500 or the Final Four, or maybe even a high school football game in Where The Heck Are We, Oklahoma.

We are not safe, that’s the home truth of Monday. We are not safe, and we cannot be made safe, unless we choose to quit our lives and become, instead of a nation that holds dear its freedoms, a nation that chooses to cling to its fears even more dearly.

If we are half the nation we believe ourselves to be, we’ll always choose the former, and damn all madmen. When the word came down about what happened in Boston, the first thing that dawned on me was all the places like it I’ve been over the years, all the stadiums and ballparks and racetracks and, yes, running courses.

Never once, even after the great sea change of 9/11, did I give a thought to how easily it could all turn the color of nightmares. It just didn’t occur.

And the second thing that dawned on me?

How nothing that happened Monday will stop me from going to those places again, because for 36 years those places have given my life meaning and fulfillment. For 36 years, they have been, for me, the places you go to see the best of us – especially on Monday, when so many instinctively ran toward the chaos to help, and when the runners themselves kept on running past the finish line to go find somewhere to donate blood.

Because of all that, I’ll go to those places again. So will a lot of us. And we’ll do it without so much as batting an eye.

Damn all madmen. Damn them all.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.