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Release From Fear

by Amanda Pagliarini

March 8,2009

Just thirteen months after the 9/11 attacks, my fellow DC residents and I added another survival skill to our resumes – the zigzag. We all had the bottled water and hand towel car kit to aid breathing should the city fill again with the ashes of a building. We were excused of our former principle of equality and celebrations of diversity as we were encouraged to report “people of suspicion.” In that same year, when Chandra Levy’s body was found along my jogging route, we learned to fear our own politicians and their eerie similarities to the mafia.

The zigzag became a critical skill in the fall of 2002. On October 2nd of that year, a man was shot dead in the parking lot of a neighborhood grocery store. The next morning, another man was shot dead while mowing the grass at a car dealership. Thirty minutes later, another man was shot and killed while pumping gas. Thirty minutes after that, a woman was shot reading a book on a bench in another shopping center. An hour later, another woman lost her life vacuuming her car at a Shell station. That morning was our painful introduction to the DC sniper.

For the next three weeks, we as a city were tortured by the random shootings that seemingly came from nowhere. The targets were everyday people, minding their own business, doing everyday things. There was no connection amongst the victims, and no consistencies at the crime scenes. There was nothing you could do, aside from not leaving your home, to help ensure your safety.

About a week into the sniper attacks, with no leads and no end in sight, we were taught the zigzag technique. It was just as it sounded – a zigzagged pattern of running when traveling from our parked cars into stores. If we weren’t a steady figure, walking in a straight line as normal, we were less likely to be shot at. Soon after the zigzag technique spread, gas stations started erecting tarp around their perimeter to provide for safe gas pumping.

Why do I tell this gruesome and horrifying story? Sadly, this is the time in my life that I reflect back to as I struggle to stay positive in the conditions we live in today. Living in today’s economy, it’s hard to walk around whistling with a sunny disposition. Anytime I wake up feeling light and happy, I am quickly scolded by our local and national news and obediently return to my somber, hopeless state. But I simply won’t do it anymore. Today, my skill in zigzagging is irrelevant and unnecessary, and for that, I am grateful.

By day I am in sales. The charities that I volunteer with have me charged with fundraising initiatives. So about 75% of my success as an individual and contributor to society are tied to my ability to get people to give me money. Needless to say – I have never felt like such a worthless failure. Feelings of failure breed depression and stress. Depression and stress breed frown lines and premature aging. Frown lines and premature aging breed the need for Botox. Botox breeds the need for money, which brings me back to the original problem. So, you can see my dilemma and necessity for new thinking.

Of the twenty plus years I spent in the DC area, the fall of 2001 through the fall of 2002 was by far the most trying period. I realize in retrospect that in addition to the mass and relevant amount of fear, the difficulty of that year had a lot to do with our sense of community being challenged. After the arrests of the two men involved in the sniper shootings, the relief and gratitude for our restored way of life overrode our supposed need for suspicion of our neighbor on the metro. That release from fear had a positive rippling effect into our relationships, businesses, even our tourism. I have to believe that same basic formula can apply to any city.

And so today, when the road seems long, the money tight, the success scarce, and the Botox starved line between my brows deepens, I pick the farthest parking spot from the store entrance, and walk straight and slowly with a smile on

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