There’s a phrase used by sportscasters: “You can’t stop him; you can only hope to contain him.” It was coined, I believe, by Dan Patrick when he was at ESPN. It’s invariably delivered tongue-in-cheek about an otherwise middling player who gets hot for one unexpected night. And it’s still usually good for an ironic, appeciative smirk.

No one’s smiling today. Yesterday happened, and now we’re left to pick through the literal and figurative rubble, searching for the whys.

Twelve years after 9/11, our world, the one uniquely inhabited by Americans, looks virtually identical to the one we knew on 9/10/01. The technology is now far more advanced, of course, but we still do what we always did: We shop and dine and get together downtown with friends. We attend movies and concerts and sporting events. Maybe we notice a few more security procedures here and there, particularly at the airport, but none of it has really kept us from doing everything we’ve enjoyed for many decades now.

Boston 2013 feels different from New York (and DC) 2001. Not just because 9/11 was so brash and expansive and alien, and 4/15/13 was so apparently simple and resulted in less chaos and fewer casualties. To me, this one feels different because it seemed inevitable. Shocking and horrifying? Absolutely. Unforeseen? Not even a little bit. As dark a sentiment as this might be, I’m honestly surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.

The other thing that’s different is us. The days after 9/11 were, frankly, a great time to be American. Naturally, we were horrified and grief stricken, and the world mourned along with us. Still, we were shaken but unbowed. We would not be overcome. We were one.

Today, the idea of a unified America is almost laughable. Whatever post-tragedy propriety existed in 2001 is long gone, drowned by suspicion, bitterness, ideological rigidity, and the ability to preach all of the above to the world with a mere mouseclick. In 2001, there was an unmistakable sense—for months afterward—of team. Today, it’s been barely 24 hours since the bombing and the recriminations are already in full swing. There’s still a semblance of a team, but the “I’s” have it.

Last week, I visited a movie theater for the first time since last year’s massacre in Aurora. It was a mid-afternoon showing of a film that’s been out for awhile, so the only people there were my brother, me, and a guy sitting about 10 rows behind us. Throughout the screening, images of Aurora flashed through my mind, and when the guy changed seats a few moments after the movie began, I tensed up until he settled back in.

If the guy had an ounce of common sense, he was keeping his eye on my brother and me, too.

This is the world we now live in. We can still watch a movie, attend a ballgame, or cheer long-distance runners from the sidelines. But the lens through which we view such activities can no longer be rose-colored. Because terrorism, I fear, is forever, and we can only hope to contain it.

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—Follow 5280 articles editor Luc Hatlestad on Twitter at @LucHatlestad.