Thus far, the only bit of personal information that has come out about the Christmas Day bomber from interviews with his neighbours is that he was 'a hermit'. Kept to himself. That's typical for people who are suicidal, and also for people who commit lone wolf attacks, but who are not associated with a political organization. This case however is unique in many aspects, as mentioned. It's hard to understand it as anything other than primarily a public statement, and one apparently replete with all kinds of strange religious, cultural and perhaps political resonance, but mostly nihilistic irony: A final act that was meant to be a meticulously planned effort at communication by a person who shunned communication, and that was aimed at destroying a facility built to provide communication services, during a pandemic characterized by people in isolation.
On that last important point: If there is one thing that we've learned from the pandemic it's how much we need each other. How much we rely on one another, whether family, friends or even total strangers, for our health, happiness and sanity. I can't help but understand the Christmas day bomber's extraordinary efforts to spare people, as connected to this. I worked from home for about two months at the beginning of the pandemic, and ended up hating it. After an initial period, about a week, of enjoying the novelty of the experience, working online became a major chore. Every task seemed to take twice as long, partly due to persistent and frequent technical difficulties even after I was forced to upgrade our home Wifi. Meetings on Zoom took way too long and were only minimally productive. So much was lacking from interaction through the screen and it was having unexpected impacts on me. I found myself becoming intolerant and short-tempered with my co-workers. They often annoyed me for no particular reason, and I frequently had to restrain unmerited overreactions. It was as if the filter of the screen had made them less worthy of common decency and respect, as if they had become, in a way, less 'human' to me.
When we re-opened the office, and I saw my co-workers for the first time in two months, I felt like hugging each one of them, which of course I could not. It was strangely thrilling. I told each one how much I missed them. Just existing in their presence, sharing space with them, experiencing the way they took up three-dimensions, for the first time in a couple of months was actually exciting. I've heard it said that when people share space there are subtle chemicals that are imperceptibly exchanged, hormones, or scents, or as we are now ominously attuned to thanks to the pandemic, microscopic aerosol particles. When we communicate it's not just in words, it's on many other subconscious levels. I suppose when you find yourself inexplicably attracted to another person, a total stranger perhaps, that's why we call it chemistry, because it actually is chemistry. Whatever the reason, one thing is undeniable, when you are with another person in the same space, you feel their presence, and it's profoundly validating of your own physical existence. Virtual communication facilitated by new technologies, although useful, simply doesn't cut it. 'Real' life means connecting with other people in the flesh. They are the link we have to the world. I may be reading too much into it, but the Christmas day bombing targeting a technical communications building in holiday-deserted downtown Nashville, with all its nihilistic peculiarities and symbolism, summed that up for me.