I have never been close to a bomb before, but on Saturday I was close, too close actually, with my precious little family in tow, but by the grace of God, that bomb didn’t leave a scrape on any of us or anyone else for that matter. Intended to hurt and harm, it has done the opposite for me – it has awakened within me a renewed focus for the gift that is a day. Tomorrow is never promised to us, and Saturday poignantly reminded me of just that.
The bomb went off, or at least part of it did, but it was botched. Investigations later found that there were two other bombs linked to the one that went off that failed to detonate on their set timer. The timer had been scheduled to target runners and spectators for the Marine Corps 5K charity run that Brandon, Ellie and I had biked to go support that morning. I love biking on the boardwalk at the beach, especially in the cool of a September morning and double especially with my one-year-old Ellie attached to me in her own little bike baby seat. The temperature was perfect for our morning family adventure through the streets and boardwalks of the little Jersey seaside town my family calls home.
For unknown reasons, there was a delay of the race start, and so we routed our way through the athletic crowd at the start line and ventured back along the Oceanside boulevard next to the boardwalk chatting with one another in a general haze of good vibes, cheerfully extending “good mornings” to everyone we saw. Peddling gleefully, with the ocean breeze wrapping itself around our faces, a loud blast punctuated the peaceful air of that Saturday morning. It was more than a blast; it was a boom, echoing profoundly like a hundred gunshots combined together at one time. Curious and unable to identify what it was, we continued biking, until we stumbled upon the blast site, just two blocks from where we were when we heard the explosion. A trashcan placed between the road and the boardwalk where we biked was burning, having exploded from the inside out with shrouds of plastic thrown out onto the street. A billowing cloud of smoke snaked its way from the can towards the police and spectators that were beginning to gather. Caught in a moment of surreal reality, we slowed down, almost to a stop, and then, upon realizing that this really had been a bomb, immediately started back up and worked our way as far away from it as we could, generally avoiding every other trashcan we saw along our way. Sirens screamed from three directions and a two-mile radius of the area was immediately put on lock-down and inundated with first responders and public service agents, police officers, bomb squads and the FBI.
Had we paused for just one minute less, we would have been right there…had we biked just a little bit faster, we would have been right there…had we not let Ellie off the bike for a few minutes to play in the sand…had the other two bombs detonated as intended … who knows what might have happened and where my family and I might have fallen into that scene and scenario, but what I know for sure is that “what if’s” are wasteful. Rather than indulge in the “what if” game, I am indulging my focus on the “what providence” game. What providence that we were spared and that life can go on as usual. What providence that the timers for multi-bomb blast failed and that the crowd of runners were delayed from even reaching the area. What providence that we were protected from something we had no control over protecting ourselves from. Invisible angels surround us all the time, but it takes reminders, close calls, from time to time to open our eyes to these hedges of love that encapsulate us and keep us safe when we don’t even know it. I have always been mindful about trying to appreciate the fragility of life, but Saturday made that truth all the more evident. Saturday gave me a safe, yet very tangible taste, on just how quickly everything you care most about in the world can be taken away from you in an instant, and in an instant when you least expect it. We are given the gift of the day – of today – and there are no guarantees … and for me, in this experience of almost being in the blast range of a bomb, the greatest truth I can take away is that tomorrow is not guaranteed, not in the slightest. I have been fully in the pursuit of practicing presence, but now am even more motivated to do so. The reality is that we didn’t get hurt, we didn’t get hit, we didn’t suffer emotionally or physically, but we could have. The gift of being alive every day truly is a gift and I don’t want to waste it by not being as present as possible. Bombs are senseless – I have yet to make sense of this bombing attempt in Seaside Park – but what this one has done for me in particular is make sense of not being senseless about wasting any more life than I already have by being anxious about the future or too attached to the past. If I want my life to make sense, and if I want to make sense in a world that is often senseless, I must focus my senses on living in the present as much as I can and in every way that I can.
When bad things happen it can be overwhelming to understand, but I understand this: the world is dark. The darkness is real. There are hurting, mad, sick, angry people out there who do bad things. Hatred and fear turn people inside out. And, as a result, there’s one thing I know for sure: we need more love, we need more light, we need more community and connection and celebration for the gift that life is, and, to eradicate the darkness, we must unify together and shine our light, for where there is light there cannot be darkness.
I do not know what the future holds and it is in times like this that I give thanks that I don’t have to know, all I have to know is that God is in control and that He will take care of me.