That Buzzing in My Head

by thoughtsatlarge


When I was in college at the University of Connecticut, three hundred years ago (from 1983-87), we endured the occasional bomb threat.  Students rolled their eyes and trudged outside into the slush soaked mud where grass used to grow in the fall (before students commandeered it for the traction and width it provided instead of risking a broken neck on the iced-over and far too thin walkways). 

Bomb threats were a nuisance, they disrupted classes and schedules and not once did they prevent a test or quiz from being given.  If class was cancelled, they were given the next day.  We all knew who had called in the threat.  It was always some nitwit who had been out partying the night before instead of studying.  He was either hung-over or just plain unprepared for the exam.  No media frenzy was created.  Parents only found out about the threat if students bothered to mention the disruption to their schedule on their next visit home.  Sure, there was always that buzzing in the back of your head, “but what if it’s real,” however, we pushed that aside and went about our business.

In the years since, the world has changed, both for the better and worse.  The internet has evolved as our main source of information.  IPhones, iPads and MacBook Pro’s have replaced landlines in the dorm room, student discounted newspaper subscriptions and renting a typewriter in the bowels of the main library for $1.00 an hour.  We have also endured the paradigm shifting event of September 11, 2001.  The equivalent of our grandparent’s December 7, 1941 (but closer to home) and our parent’s November 22, 1963 (but more personal), enduring that day changed forever the way we see ourselves, our country and the world.  It was as if, in the instant the second plane hit the South Tower, we ripped out the partially written pages of the rest of our lives and inserted blank, blood stained pulp instead.  Living in Rhode Island, halfway between the origination of the flights (Boston) and their initial targets (NYC), my children’s elementary school was in lockdown mode for hours, my wife stationed outside the main door waiting to scoop them into her protective arms.  Unimaginable horror had reached our shores.  The great oceans that had buffered us in two world wars gave way to the globalization of terror.  Nobody was safe anymore.  The buzzing had intensified.

Now my children are in college, freshmen at the University of Texas at Austin.  Three days ago, they suffered through what I remember as a disruptive, but innocuous event caused by an unprepared knucklehead.  Instead, they heard the campus-wide siren wail for attention followed by text messages to clear all buildings.  A caller, who claimed not to be a student and affiliated with Al-Qaeda, said he had placed bombs all around campus and that they would detonate in 90 minutes.  Two other schools also reported bomb threats that day.  The FBI is investigating to see if they are connected.  My children, although they performed quickly and efficiently in evacuating campus together, were shaken by the event.  Following the adrenaline crash that night, they were almost nonverbal when we video chatted with them.  You could almost see the effect the buzzing in the back of their heads was having on them.

I’m all but certain this was the result of yet another unprepared student, separated generationally from my era, but convinced, nonetheless, that this was the only way to avoid a catastrophic grade.  However, given the world in which we live, that faint buzzing in the back of my head now takes on the scream of airliners overhead and the horrific thud of those who decided to jump rather than burn.  I will never forget those sounds and I can never assume that terrorism, either foreign or domestic, has not visited upon my children’s lives.  Text messaging and phone calls link me to them during these times, if the cellular network withstands the spike in usage.  We have to let them leave the nest and fly, but now I no longer shrug when I hear of a bomb threat on campus.  The buzzing is too loud.