Soft targets is a deceptive term. It brings to mind plush toys, dart boards, or piles of Autumn leaves. But “soft targets” is a military term for people like you and me—unprotected civilian interests targeted by terrorists. Leave it to the generals to make something so macabre sound so… cute.
Soft targets are our friends and cousins who become casualties of improvised bombs like the ones used on Boylston Street during the 2013 Boston Marathon, or at the wedding hall in Kabul last year when 63 merrymakers were killed. The murderers really don’t care who dies. They certainly don’t care that people are out supporting their loved ones, pursuing a dream or celebrating one of life’s biggest moments. They care about the message they send (whatever confusing message that might be) and then capitalizing on that confusion to gain more power.
This February I started a song that became Soft Targets. The idea was stuck in my head—subconscious shrapnel. I had a line:
My chemistry has turned against me
I wasn’t really sure where it was going. It didn’t have a meaning. It had meanings. It was everything about the moment:
- It was the voice of people I knew fighting cancer, both here and gone,
- It was growing fear about a novel coronavirus, microbiology causing the body to turn on itself,
- It was deteriorating family dynamics, blood against blood, Abraham and Isaac, Cain and Abel,
- It was my black and brown friends and family in a country that favors white,
- It was the voice of my immigrant in-laws who look and speak differently than the majority,
- It was all of the above.
I found myself in the role of “the receiver” as I often do, like an antennae picking up signals through the static of broken transmissions in the ether. It was overwhelming.
My chemistry has turned against me / I don’t know where to begin
So I did what I do to keep moving. I began composing a song. As the music emerged and the lyrics developed, both crescendoed to the only idea that seemed to make this unwanted radio signal bearable, a universal sigh:
My religion is no decision / It’s just the air I breathe / And this touch, it’s not much / But it’s all I need
We are often soft targets in the crosshairs of biology, political oppressors, or unjust social constructs. Even when we find ourselves helpless in these situations, we can find comfort with those nearest to us and a belief in something greater that binds us. There is a school of thought that the Hebrew name of God, YHWH, is not really a name, but simply the sound of inhaling and exhaling, the breath of the universe.
This Touch. This Breath. This Now. This is how we persist, not just exist.
This week I started thinking about these lyrics again when I read Trump’s memo attacking America’s cities. His personal grudges against governors and mayors end up harming the people of entire states. His need to appear in control has led to him to reduce and dismiss coronavirus testing so that Covid-19 death statistics appear lower, leading to thousands of more deaths. His desire to appear as a strong leader has led to him amplifying clashes in Kenosha and Portland, further dividing, rather than healing us. He claims to be the only one that can stop this so-called anarchy through “law and order” while stoking the flames of unrest and paranoia. This chaos, and our casualties, are clearing his path to more power. We are his soft targets. We are the crowd catching the shrapnel from his aggression as he pursues his own agenda.
There are nights that I read the news and feel shredded. The only thing that pulls me out of it is the unexpected hug from one of my kids or a thoughtful anticipation from my wife. I hope you can find momentary comfort in a warm touch today. Maybe one day we can reclaim this phrase, soft targets. I’ll be the soft target of a hug any day.