Acurious set of events happened to me last week. The first event was a phone call I received one day while I was in my office, from the mother of a student. I know the student from class, New South and the Dean’s office. And I had met the mom several times during some of her visits to campus. She was calling me because she had heard Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge talking about the latest terror alert and announcing that the nation was now on “code orange” alert for terrorism. The mom lived a good distance away from D.C., in a part of the country that I, as a child of New Jersey, once thought only existed in the mind of my elementary and high school teachers. She called because she was worried about her daughter here at Georgetown. So we talked about the situation. I told her about the university planning that had been going on to address any events. And we talked about her fears and terror. And, I promised to look in on her daughter.

The second event in the set happened a few nights later. One night the woman’s daughter was in New South. As often happens in the residence halls, the daughter was distributing flyers of some variety or other. It was a great opportunity to talk with her. And it gave me an opportunity to keep the promise I had made to her mom. As we talked, it was clear to me that she had no great fears about terrorist attacks in D.C. Her fears were more about her grades and a guy she has been dating.

These two experiences of mother and daughter, taken together, led me to think about terror, risk and security. We all want security in our lives. And our fears are defined by how we understand security. These concepts must be examined as a group for they all tie together. And our ideas about security and our fears help each of us define “risk” in our lives. Life is filled with risks of all kinds. We can study them and we can estimate their probabilities. But each of us assesses risk within our own framework and view of the world. Some people are very risk-adverse. They are very cautious. They don’t like to gamble and take few risks. Others are born gamblers. They are willing to take on all kinds of risk. They box, sky dive or even take advice from Father Maher. Most of us are somewhere in between. We are willing to take risks in certain areas but not others.

What brings all these ideas – fear, security, risk and terror – together? I think it is love. I think what we love defines our senses of security, fear and the risks we are willing to take or not take. Some years back, Father Pedro Arrupe, who at the time was the Superior General of the Jesuits throughout the world, wrote about the importance of falling in love. He said that love defines everything in our lives. It will define what gives you joy, what breaks your heart, what gives you hope. What you love is what motivates you, what gets you out of bed, guides you in how you spend your time. Falling in love, Arrupe said, is the most important thing in our lives. It defines everything else.

Our loves also give shape to our senses of security, fear and terror. What we love will help us determine what risks we will take. The mother I spoke of earlier clearly loves her daughter and the phone call was a measure of that love. Her daughter was more concerned about the guy she is seeing. So for each of us, to understand our fears, our sense of security and the risks we will take, we must know what we love.

As a nation, we must figure out what we love and cherish. If we don’t figure it out, we risk losing it to terrorists. Or we risk losing what we love as a nation in the name of security.

Father Kevin Wildes, S.J. is an assistant dean for the College. As This Jesuit Sees It. appears every other Friday.

Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.

Comments are closed.