I was just getting comfortable with the idea that my youngest daughter was living and working in New York City when I heard, on Halloween afternoon, that there’d been an attack on the city in the shadow of the Freedom Tower. It was, apparently, a senseless act of violence against absolutely innocent people, international tourists mostly, who were riding bikes in a designated bike lane along the Hudson River when they were mowed down by a rented Home Depot truck. I wasn’t scared for my daughter’s safety when I heard the news; I knew she was sitting at her computer in her office on 6th Avenue. But, I did pull up a map to see exactly where Chambers Street and the Westside Highway intersected. And I checked to see how near it was to her office at the corner of 6th and Spring Street in Soho. Pretty close. We exchanged information via text messages and she was fine; just concerned about the masses of people gathering outside on the street preparing for the largest Halloween parade in the world. I asked her to let me know when she was safely back at her apartment in Brooklyn. A few hours later she reported that she had to take a different route home due to the parade but was back safe and sound. Whew. I went to bed that night feeling a little unsettled to say the least. I spent time analyzing my discomfort. It wasn’t that I felt my daughter was in immediate danger. There’d been no evidence that this was a coordinated plan of multiple attacks on New York City. The violence seemed to be over. I suddenly realized that I was worried about all of us. It’s as if war has been declared against us, innocent people going about our business or our fun, anywhere in the world. The likelihood of a plane striking a skyscraper seems unlikely in this age of zealous TSA agents and multiple restrictions on our carry-on bags. But, perhaps more terrifying, is the thought that some horrible act of aggression can take place against us at anytime, no matter what we’re doing by people we don’t know. We can’t see the enemy, nor do we know who it is. But, we know the enemy is out there and he doesn’t seem to value his own life any more than he does the lives of innocent people. He’s prepared, and even willing, to die. We didn’t sign up for a battle. We’re unprepared and unarmed for it. It’s as if a bomb could drop at any moment without warning, a truck could run over a bunch of people strolling lively Las Ramblas in Barcelona, or lounging on a sunny beach in Nice, France. A gunman could open fire from a Las Vegas hotel window onto a crowd enjoying a concert down below or in a packed nightclub in Paris or Orlando. Or at an office party in San Bernardino or at a Christmas market in Berlin. Or in a crowded movie theater in Denver or at a mid-week prayer service in a Charleston church. Or on a bike lane in New York City on Halloween afternoon. We can’t rely on any person or organization or military branch to protect us because our enemy is cowardly and doesn’t play by the usual rules of engagement. We can’t say nor can we predict where they’ll strike next. It could be Isis or a radicalized extremist raised in the U.S. and addicted to online propaganda. Or an Uzbekistan immigrant. Or a Tunisian, a Syrian, an Afghan. Al Qaeda. Or a white supremacist or a person suffering from mental illness. The labels don’t matter. There’s no planning for it, no explanation of it. There’s seemingly no protection against it. No wonder so many of us feel helpless and afraid. But, we cannot and should not feel hopeless. As FDR famously said during a time of great despair and uncertainty, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” And the British poster on the eve of WWII, “Keep calm and carry on.” Following the attack, I took comfort from NY officials who encouraged everyone to continue about their business but also made some some valuable suggestions. He said we can pay attention, put away our phones, take off our headphones and be aware of our surroundings. See something, say something. Be alert, be vigilant. But, above all, be ourselves, live our lives and don’t be paralyzed by fear. Yes, let’s, no matter how difficult that may seem. As travel guru Rick Steves says, “Keep On Travelin’!” He believes that 24-hour news and social media has increased our awareness of these events and oftentimes magnifies them by the non-stop coverage. For each horror story, there must be many more untold stories of bravery and thwarted attempts at evil. One thing’s for sure: most of us care for our fellow men and would jump to their aid if need be, as evidenced after every attack. We would never think of causing an innocent person harm. I believe there are way more people like us than like those causing all this senseless harm. And we can win this war. Ok. I feel better now. Good night!
This was written four days before the massacre in the Baptist church at Sutherland Springs. Lord, help us.