“Me and a gun
and a man
On my back
But I haven’t seen Barbados
So I must get out of this”
— Tori Amos
No one should be surprised when an off-the-cuff remark about a bomb in a suitcase leads to an airport lockdown and evacuation. As the manager at Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage said after such an incident last weekend, “in this day and age a teenager would know better.” That’s because we’re living in an era dominated by fear. But before we lower the flag to half mast “o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave,” we could learn a lesson about real courage from women who have recovered from rape and domestic violence.
First let’s look at the basic facts of the airport incident in Anchorage. While checking in at the Alaska Airlines counter, a ticketed passenger noticed that his luggage claim tag was put on his traveling companion’s bag. He pointed out the mistake to the check-in agent, and when it wasn’t corrected he either said “but my friend’s bag has a bomb in it” or “what if my friend’s bag has a bomb in it.” Without incident, the man walked away. He passed through TSA security screening and was in the Alaska Airlines Boardroom when airport police arrested him for disorderly conduct and making terroristic threats.
Bomb threats should always be taken seriously. But this wasn’t a threat. It was a scare exacerbated by airport authorities trained to be suspiciously afraid of everything out of the ordinary. Sure, whatever the man said was stupid, but only “in this day and age.” In other words, the incident would have been handled very differently before 9-11. So the question is – how do we get back to living without fear persistently nagging us? Will it be only after we have enough trigger ready drones patrolling the skies to take out every terror suspect around the world? Until then are we going to have to arrest every person who has a momentary slip of a cynical tongue?
If we look beyond the surface we’ll understand that America is still struggling with psychological shock from that memorable day. And it’s psychological trauma that forms the bridge between this story and those of women in this world who have found the courage to heal from a life interrupted by fear.
Tori Amos is one such woman. She was brutally raped at knifepoint when she was 21 years old. “Me and a Gun” was written and recorded seven years later. Its painful lyrics are hauntingly sung without music so we’re not distracted from horror of her experience. The line “so I must get out of this” represents her simple wish to survive the attack.
Amos explains that she felt “psychologically mutilated that night” and was emotionally paralyzed for years. The song was one way she began “trying to put the pieces back together again. Through love, not hatred. And through my music. My strength has been to open again, to life, and my victory is the fact that, despite it all, I kept alive my vulnerability.”
Millions of women around the world have survived rape or brutal domestic assault. As Governor Sean Parnell pointed out in his Empire editorial last week, the problem is rampant in Alaska. His Choose Respect initiative deserves our support. “We intend to foster freedom from fear” he wrote. But as Amos and many victims of these real life horrors know, it takes enormous courage to transcend their fears and rejoin the living. So we need to create a culture that emphasizes healing, not just escape from abuse.
And that applies to our terror stricken society. The event that put this country on its frightened back happened more than a decade ago. And although most of us never experienced the horror first hand, collectively we’ve been allowing the fear it spawned to keep us in a state of victimhood.
Certainly no one is going to rid the evils from our world. But if we’re going to put an end to this American narrative of fear, we must begin to trust vulnerability is a more courageous companion in life than the illusion of security.
• Moniak is a Juneau resident.