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The bomb that changed my life (2011) (swombat.com)
226 points by jacquesm on Apr 16, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments

It's a great read. Though you can only relate to it when bombs are like a once in a lifetime thing.

Living in Peshawar, where bomb blasts are a regular occurrence, you slowly get immune to it. To such an extent that even the media doesn't care (we just had a blast only 2 miles away from my home killing 16 today).

You get to a stage that you just start living in fear. Worrying about your family whenever they go out.

Violence in Pakistan has now become like poverty in Africa.

It doesn't make for a surprising headline. It's almost an expectation of how we expect Pakistan to be.

...And of course /persons from 1st world countries/white people/ aren't dieing. So it won't make the headlines of news sites.

yea I am not complaining. Regular stuff doesn't sell on media.

I am just pointing out at first a bomb blast is likely an eye opener: life is short lets do something before I die. But when it happens every week, it goes to the stage where you start thinking you just don't have enough time to do anything.

And the worst (or best?) thing is that we are not living in a war-zone. We actually go to our jobs everyday, attend weddings, go eat in restaurants. I am product lead of a startup here.

It's like living a dual-life.

Just curious: What keeps you there? I mean this as your reasoning, not a general "why people stay where they're born" question. What pops in your head when you think of moving?


I have been travelling for 12 years and I really want to spend time with them now. Both are above 60 and this is the ideal time to be with them.

You might ask why they don't just move. That's because the bulk of their life is spent here. There social circle is all based here. It keeps them busy at this age. They visit my siblings in US every year but after a few weeks they get bored. We don't push them because at the end of the day we think it's criminal to move your parents to a totally new place in their age to start a new life all over again. They've worked really hard all their lives, it's time for them to enjoy.

"I have been travelling for 12 years and I really want to spend time with them now. Both are above 60 and this is the ideal time to be with them."

Wow, reading all your comments really puts things into perspective. How you are able to, in some way, possibly risk your own safety just to be with your parents and other immediate members of your family, truly speaks in great lengths about who you are and your character as a whole.

Keep doing your thing. The world needs more people like you.

Wow. Just wow. Amazing.

Today morning I read about this bomb blast killing wedding guests and families in Afghanistan [1]. Unfortunately, it was carried out by one of us. I ignored the news, in some sort of natural filter, to avoid registering negatives of the world. There are just so many of them.

Now after read Daniel's experience, and your comment about Peshawar Neebz, I feel what a terrible place and time I have been born in. Why does all this have to happen? Who is terrorist for whom? And why do innocents have to die or face these experiences at all? For which perhaps only the political leaders are responsible.

[1] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-125820/US-bomb-kills...

> I feel what a terrible place and time I have been born in.

I wouldn't advise the XIII century. Or most of the XX. Or the 5th BC. Or ...

As a matter of fact, you probably just have "better" news of the world, not objectively worse conditions. There was a post about that recently ...

"The Better Angels of our Nature" by Steven Pinker shows that this is the least violent time in history.


yup I think Steven Pinker has been writing about this lately, the past couple years or so. maybe longer.

Why do you single out the XIII century? In Western/Southern Europe and much of Asia, it was in many respects a golden age. The XIV century was worse, most notably due to the plague.

Pretty random, first thing that occurred to me. You probably did not want to be in this guy's path: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Genghis_Khan

(I may have been echoing an old SF story where a XXX century displaced person was telling a friend about his punishment for trying a ruthless power grab, which was being dumped in Warsaw in September 1939. However, he had bounced back, remaking a good life. But the "friend" was an agent who then proceeded to continue the punishment by dumping him in Baghdad before Genghis hit it ...).

Anyways, pick a century, any century ...

The Mongols are exactly why I didn't mention the space between Asia and Western Europe. To tie in the Crusades comment below, I also didn't mention Northern Africa or the Middle East. Anyway, once again it seems I've read too much into a random number, similarly to when I jumped all over someone on Reddit for saying nothing happened in 1789!

Not the GP, but maybe this?


C13 is 1200-1299

Not to minimize that tragic bombing you read about this morning, but it took place back in 2002. Your wording gave me the impression it happened recently.

Hmmm, did notice that. Tragedy nonetheless, but right now what's more tragic is that my friends are sharing this old piece of news up on their walls. :-)

Unfortunately, there have always been these kind of things happening in the world. The only thing that has changed is now we have the ability to share all of this in real time and the constant stream of news we are bombarded with.

It also doesn't help that a story like the one you posted above, is more "click-worthy" than a story about how someone from the same Boston Bomb blast helped saved people, made tourniquets out of their shorts and shirt, and put their own safety in jeopardy just to help others. I would like to read a story like that; a story that celebrates humans helping other humans in times of tragedy.

Unless it is some chain "status" on Facebook put on by some poster just scraping for likes, only to promote some shitty whatever on their facebook account, feel good stories just aren't as widely circulated as stories that scare people. It sucks.

Why is this a terrible time compared to others? While the third world is still not a good life compared to our past it could be a lot worse. While famines are still a problem they are not nearly as prevalent as in the past. Although people living in the third world don’t get good medical care it’s still better than what most people had available 1500 years ago. All we’ve done is exchange one set of problems for another, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that when looking at history this is a more terrible time than any other.

I have a tattoo on each of my forearms, one says "love life" and the other says "embrace death". I got them while I was in the military, but independent of being in the military. I had a friend (unrelated brother would be another term) who was shot and killed by his father in law. He knew it was coming, he may have been able to avoid dying himself, but didn't. I had spoken to him about life and death multiple times, and he always lived such that if he were to die that moment, he wouldn't have any regrets, but he clung to and enjoyed life. I'm not going to go into the full story of the details surrounding his death (I am willing to over email if anyone's really wants to know), but I got the tattoos shortly afterwards as a constant reminder. It's about being the person you want to be, doing the right thing even if it isn't the easy thing, living life so that if you died right now you could be proud of how you lived your life.

I have met very few people who live their lives the same way (many claim to, or even do when it's the easy path, but stray when it's not) and there are many people who have similar experiences but go on to just live in fear, or eventually put it to the back of their minds. Everyone, death is inevitable (even if we somehow achieve immortality, there's the heat death of the universe). No matter how long or short your life is, you decide where it goes and you are the judge of the quality of how you lived that life.

I needed this. I have spent the past 24 hours shell-shocked.

By pure chance I was not at my usual spectator spot at the marathon yesterday for the first time in 4 years: in front of the storefront where the first bomb went off.

It's all thanks to pure happenstance: for the first time in years I am no longer a remote worker; the company that acquired my startup last fall has offices in the suburbs and I am not yet past the 6 month moratorium on taking vacation days.

The unlikely series of events that led to me not being present until about 30 minutes after the blasts is something I am still coming to terms with. I almost don't have time to...my building is still under armed lockdown because I live a mere block from the scene. I dread having to walk that route someday soon.

Still, I hate the company that acquired my startup, even if the acquisition potentially saved me grave injury. I think it's past time I quit, instead of just complaining about it and hoping for dividends.

After the tragedies of 9/11 I had to return to my downtown office, just a few blocks from the towers. It was one thing to be there the day of (and quite similarly being in a situation of things being quite different had I been a little earlier that day) - but seeing the aftermath was quite tough. It gets better - and while the day and events has not been forgotten, the scene just doesn't bring that fear anymore - not for a long time now.

You'll be fine. Talk to your friends and family when you feel like you aren't. In the end, you will be fine.

The worst part about all of this has been the many scenes I saw on Monday that caused flashbacks to memories of 9/11. Nothing I saw Monday compares to the horror of being with friends waiting to find out that yes, their parents had died in the WTC. Even seeing blood and police everywhere steel feels abstract.

I am relatively certain that I won't be fearful (or at least I hope so). I just hope passing by the scene will not cause an emotional response that I can't hold back. Most weeks I pass by the spot a dozen times or more, and I don't want to unconsciously play a game of "what if" every time I'm there.

It's hard to predict the emotional response you might get - nothing is for certain until you are there. Right after 9/11 I was numb, but I didn't have a major response going back to our offices. My company at the time shut down not long after and I started working in midtown. It wasn't until the year anniversary that I decided to take a different route in to work, just to go by the proceedings down there - my emotional response was bad - I went to city hall park and sat there, reflecting for a good half hour before I could continue to work. I remember vividly an elderly woman coming and sitting next to me to make sure I was ok.

It takes time. The "what if" feeling is an awkward one to deal with - but instead of worrying, live life to the fullest. That "what if" will always be there for so many other reasons.

I was pretty shell-shocked for the first day too (it happened in the morning). I kept watching TV coverage of it (once I got home), until my friend came to visit and snapped me out of it. I felt like I was in a daze.

My advice in your situation would be: don't rush it. There's plenty of time to make these decisions when you are not shell-shocked. The important thing is the insight, the change of perspective. The decisions will follow naturally, but no need to make them while you're still dazed and confused.

A week or a month won't make that much difference to your decision - but they will mean that when you look back at it a year later, it won't be with the feeling that perhaps you rushed the decision.

Carpe Diem, my friend. Money is great, but if you had an experience like that, one that you felt was an eye opener, then do whatever you need to do. Like Jeff Bezo's Regret Minimization Framework.

I had a similar experience where I was almost T-Boned by a Semi Truck that ran a red light when I was 18 after I just graduated from High School (I am 21 now). It made me realize what I want to do, and is perhaps one of the best things that could have happened to me in its own morbid way.

I'm happy that you're okay. Just don't let it control your life in a negative way / cause you to live in fear. I know that sounds easier said than done. While not on the same scale, it took me a while to move past insane amounts of fear anything a nasty storm rolled through due to a traumatic tornado event when I was younger.

A life lived doing what makes you happy is a good thing. I realized that later in life than I should have.

I'm happy to say that my friends in the area were okay as well.

This is a great piece.

Conveys the harsh cold ground reality of a bomb blast. I lost a good friend in the German Bakery bomb blasts that struck Pune, India in 2010 and this story made me well up. We are all just meat bags held up with a few bones and an explosion is capable of ending all the life we have spent years building around ourselves and our loved ones. Terrorists truly suck.

"We all just meat bags." No. Can we stop with the nerd reductionist attitude so prevalent on sites like this? The majority of people don't consider human life to be simply "just meat bags."

Sorry for the loss of your friend.

He/she was pointing out the fragility of our bodies, not making any sort of value judgment.

I initially read it as a joking reference to Star Wars: KOTOR's assassin droid's constant references to the other characters as meatbags.

It doesn't matter what the majority of people think. That is ultimately what we are, and the tragedy of being killed by a bomb reinforces it.

Ultimately? Really?

If you are going to deconstruct that way, why stop there, why not bags of water? Or a random assortment of atoms?

By that reasoning a work of art is just random colors and there is no reason to admire it.

But in actuality the whole is greater than the parts, and that applies to people too.

"By that reasoning a work of art is just random colors and there is no reason to admire it."

I disagree. There is no conflict between admiring the organization of the fundamental particles and realizing that stuff is ultimately just big collections of fundamental particles.

Yes, but "realizing that stuff is ultimately just big collections of fundamental particles" is probably the ultimate in pointless activities. (Unless of course you are studying particle physics.)

By that measure every single thing that exists is exactly identical to everything else. If nothing is different, then nothing matters, and nothing has value.

Let's just short circuit that entire pointless line of thought and look at the whole, not just the parts.

I would add to my sibling comment here that one should note that a particular characteristic of the engineer (or software developer) is the ability to internalise all of the layers of a system and to be able to treat it as whichever subset of the layers are relevant at any given time.

Doing so hardly means that one considers all such systems equivalent or indeed that one doesn't think of a reductionist view as just the most reified (though pretty damned vague) possible view of the system.

That's a great point. All layers are correct, but most won't be useful for a given problem.

If you're thinking about, say, crowd reactions, then you don't want the "meatbag" model. Instead, you need a higher-level psychological model. However, if your problem is "what kind of injuries result from a bomb", then the "meatbag" model is right on.

Thinking of the body as a loose confederation of fundamental particles is fairly useless when trying to decide how much to charge for a product, but it's an excellent model when e.g. figuring out how much radiation a person will absorb from a source.

No layer denies the usefulness or reality of any of the others.

We can agree here. And note that I had no issue with the use of the word meatbag to describe bomb effects.

It was your use of the word "ultimately" that I objected to.

I don't get why. If you keep stripping away the abstractions, that is where you end up.

No, if you keep stripping away the abstractions you end up with quarks.

I'll consolidate the conversation here.

"By that measure every single thing that exists is exactly identical to everything else."

Where do you get this idea? "X is ultimately just a big collection of fundamental particles" and "Y is ultimately just a big collection of fundamental particles" does not imply "X is identical to Y".

It's like saying you should never call anybody a "person" because you're implying all people are identical. I mean, what?

  | why not bags of water
Already been done: "Ugly bags of mostly water"


Ironically you're using 'a work of art' in your defense while attacking a statement made in an artistic style.

If all you are is a "meat bag", then a bomb blast is no more tragic than making sloppy joes with ground beef.

Silly nerd thinking. Your "meat bag" and "meat space" thinking is ridiculous.

You are making the classic mistake of assuming what people must think without actually bothering to stop and ask them if they really think that. Just because you think that he thinks that, does not actually mean that he does think that.

I simultaneously believe that humans are made of meat and that the loss of a human is tragic. You are in absolutely no place to tell me that I don't think the second because I think the first.

Edit: Also, "meatspace" generally is just shorthand for "life away from the computer. not 'cyberspace'" The term "real life" could be used, though many find the implication of that to be very silly for obvious reasons.

What he thinks was most certainly revealed there, and it's common for many commenters on sites like HN and reddit.

"We are all just meat bags ..."

If you told someone that their son was "just a meat bag," or if you were speaking on your behalf in court and stated you were "making an appearance in meat space," you would be naturally considered a sociopath.

So get real.

It's the nerd group-think reductionist tendency on the internet. They wouldn't get away with it in real life for long if they valued having friends.

You can choose to sound like the atheistic Colombine murderers and their ilk, but don't expect the less numbed to not call you out on it.

"atheistic Colombine murderers"

Holy shit. Nice troll.

Are you only trolling or deliberately misinterpreting a comment just to be angry at evil atheists?

Oooookay, we are done here.

I should have guessed a real conversation wasn't your goal when you started out with insults. My fault really.

> If all you are is a "meat bag", then a bomb blast is no more tragic than making sloppy joes with ground beef.

Does not follow, and I disagree strongly. Specifics matter, but that doesn't make the "meat bag" thing untrue.

It's also true that a person and a block of wood are the same - they are both made of atoms, and the same types of atoms for that matter.

If everything is true then nothing is. If you want to compare a person to a meat bag, then you also have to compare them to a block of wood, and the sun, and everything else. i.e. you've actually done nothing whatsoever.

         /  |   \
     meat  wood  ...
    /   \    \
  human cow   ...

Humans are not wood, though wood and humans are both matter. Humans are however "made of meat", just as any other animal is.

As far as I can tell, the point of describing humans as meat is not to make an assessment of worth, but rather to drive home the fragile and temporary nature of humans. I don't know why anyone would object to that.

Because people like being pedantic in the worst possible way.

The fragility angle was obvious in his post, but people clearly just needed to be butthurt over something.

"is" != "is (mostly) made of"

Fair enough. I suspect the terminology "meat" is mostly a homage to Terry Bisson's short story "They're Made Out of Meat". That is why I like the word anyway. ;)

After thinking about this for a while I propose "aggregates of stardust" instead of "meat bags" ^^

You're trying to put people down by calling them nerds on Hacker News. It's not an insult that gains much traction anyway, but surely this is about the worst place you could possibly do it.

Nobody's suggesting what you're saying but you. If you're incapable of comprehending written English then you probably shouldn't be reading these comments.

14 years ago, I have survived a war. In the second day of NATO attack to Serbia, I have seen a huge explosion only 5-6 km away. That was like in the movies. That was the scariest explosion I've ever seen. First only a big cupola, and then a terrifying sound. Later I realized that this event changed my life. In better way. You learn to appreciate life.

When I was a kid, I experienced the explosion at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Definitely changed my life. Did anyone else here go thru that?

I kind of feel bad, but I love this kind of reading. It gives you some solemn introspection- this could happen to me, kind of thoughts

I don't think there's any reason to feel bad about that.

It probably feels weird saying something like, "I crave reading first-hand accounts of near-death experiences." It indirectly implies that you derive pleasure from people being in these situations.

I agree that if someone went to the trouble of writing and sharing their experiences, being touched/affected by it is a complement to the person.

For what it's worth, it doesn't make me feel bad at all that someone likes to read this. Obviously, I wouldn't have written and posted it if I didn't want to share it, and I wouldn't share it with some perverse intention to have people feel guilty for reading it.

I think there's a pretty thick line to be drawn between being fascinated by accounts like this one, shared willingly, and being obsessed by reading or viewing accounts extracted from people by the media, sometimes against their will or understanding... One is voyeurism, the other is just learning about someone's experience from them...

Great writing Daniel and such a shame it comes off the back of a harrowing experience. I think it must have changed you, probably in ways much less obvious than just prompting you to (a year later) start your own business.

I've met a couple of people who did "look to the right", so to speak, and your decision not to look should be right up there with the best decisions you've ever made.

> I've met a couple of people who did "look to the right", so to speak, and your decision not to look should be right up there with the best decisions you've ever made.

It's one of those strange things when the impulse decision to limit experience, rather than expand it, seems to have been the right one. Sometimes it's better to be conservative. Some part of my brain was seemingly functioning well enough to protect me from myself there. I did not know anything about PTSD at the time, and thankfully I still have no first-hand experience of it, but from what I've read about it that would have been a perfect occasion to inflict that on myself for no good reason... So yes, I'm pretty happy about that decision too...!

I have read this a couple of times. Very powerful.

If you have yet to read this, I thoroughly recommend you do.

Thanks for posting this, I didn't see it when it was first published.

You're welcome. After yesterdays events this kept coming back up in my thoughts and I figured I should re-post it.

That James Holden track can also change your life.

Powerful stuff, great read for all in light of yesterday's events.

Very moving story.

This is beautifully written and very moving Daniel. I hope the memory of the trauma is truly in the past and that the event really has changed you for the better.

Thanks. I believe so, on both counts. At this point I am even happier with my life than when I wrote this article (though recent progress cannot really be blamed on that bomb anymore!)

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