Remember the pain of Hurricane Andrew. Or the horror of California’s Northridge earthquake.
If there was comfort, it was in the randomness of those events - a natural disaster, as it is called.
But imagine if the carnage was the handiwork of some maniac. How angry and vengeful would a nation be?
That’s how America feels as it faces the stark reality of terrorism because of the car bombing in Oklahoma City.
There was no nature to blame, no seemingly uncompassionate God to rant at. Only culprits - terrorists whose bomb not only found adults in a federal office building but as many as 30 tiny kids in a day-care center.
And what makes it so scary is that it happened not in the crime meccas of New York or Los Angeles, but in Middle America, at the start of a work day, in an ordinary federal office building.
“To think someone would hate us Americans that much to do this,” said Norman Zylber, 79, a Holocaust survivor from Boca Raton, Fla. “To think, someone would attack our freedom like that. When they catch whoever did this, they should execute them without a trial.”
Confusion, fear, rage and revenge.
A nation is trying to sort out its emotions. And it doesn’t seem to be doing well. From bombarding online services and talk shows to venting to newspapers, nobody seems to know what to do with their emotions.
“I’m just outraged at the world,” said Coral Springs, Fla., mother Sandy Rosenberg.
Rosenberg was sitting around the breakfast table at her home on Thursday, talking about the bombing with friends and family. She was disgusted at how newspapers provided detail after detail of the carnage. She was horrified that the media reported how the bomb was probably made.
And then, when her 5-year-old son drew a picture of a bomb blowing up a child, Rosenberg became irate.
“What kind of society is this when a child draws a picture like this?” she asked. “And I’m sure he’s not the only kid doing this.
“Please - somebody hear this. This madness has to stop. Something has to be done to make things right.”
But what can be done?
Nothing, experts say. There’s no way to prevent a madman from detonating a car bomb outside a building.
So Americans Thursday could only keep a wary eye as they passed post offices or walked into office buildings. They grappled with waves of emotions, from fear to sadness. And they wondered.
“You look at a car and know it could have a bomb in it right here,” said Birch Willey, who owns a camera shop off downtown Fort Lauderdale. “We know we’re vulnerable, and we don’t know what to do about it.”
Like many Americans, Willey feels a sense of sadness and helplessness. Late Wednesday, as he was watching footage, his wife, Claudia, burst into tears.
“I said, ‘I know honey, I feel the same way,”’ Willey recalled. “We’re all just so sad.”
Thursday, Americans were just trying to cope.
Some workers called in sick to federal jobs. Some parents kept kids home from day care. Normally stoic adults were seen losing their composure in the car or in front of their televisions.
That sense of helplessness leads to calls for vengeance, psychologists say. And already there are lynching cries from usually patient and tolerant Americans.