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The Sky is Falling

Unknown 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.



Halloween: Bah Humbug!

IMG_0634Some people are Halloween people and love to decorate their homes and throw costume parties.  I’m more like the Ebenezer Scrooge of this fall holiday, especially now that we’re empty nesters. My husband joins me in this sentiment and recently asked, “If we don’t have any children at home, do we have to hand out candy?” Of course we do; don’t get me wrong, I always helped my daughters with their costumes, and have never been accused of withholding candy. I just don’t like any part of it. There, I said it. I think it goes back to my youth when I didn’t enjoy dressing up and going trick or treating. I’m not sure why. I think I developed a complex when I was 5 or 6 and exited my house in a store-bought costume from J.C. Penney only to be met by my across-the-street neighbor whose mother was crafty. I remember one year she was dressed as an apple, fully decked out in a stuffed red felt suit complete with a stem on top of her head. How could my polyester, one-dimensional Snow White dress with plastic mask compete with that? Oh, and, I hated ringing strangers’ doorbells. Who knew what dangers lurked within? I was an unusual kid, I know. I didn’t enjoy hay rides or haunted houses, and found carving pumpkins messy. Thankfully, I eventually outgrew the holiday and the pressure to wear a disguise every October 31st ended. Then I had children. Talk about costume pressure! At first it wasn’t too bad; we just stuffed the baby in a little orange onesie with a Jack-o-lantern stitched on the front. But, before long, the girls were toddling and the Disney store opened at North Star Mall. Claire wanted to be a fairy princess in a pink dress with many, many layers of tulle and a light-up wand, and Caitlin needed to be Princess Jasmine in her turquoise outfit complete with shoes and lots of exotic gold accessories. Cha-ching! When you do not have a creative bone in your body, this can be a costly holiday. Some years I was able to save money by recycling a ridiculously expensive dance recital costume purchased the previous spring. Of course, in a pinch there was always the pair of scrubs grabbed from my husband’s closet – instant Doctor! And, a classic psychedelic dress that belonged to my mother in the ’60’s paired with some groovy shades could transform anyone into a hippy. Thank goodness for the Harry Potter decade – Grandma sewed a cape, we grabbed a wand, (aka a stick from the backyard), and were done!  Today kids don’t seem to outgrow the holiday. Mine were still dressing up in high school and college, and I believe my grad student transformed herself into The Hunger Games’ Katness just last weekend! My dad said that when he was a little boy, he and his brothers were aways ghosts for Halloween; they just threw on a sheet and went over to their aunt and uncle’s house for an apple or a shiny coin. How did we let this holiday get so out of control?

I’m starting to feel guilty about my Halloween admission; it almost seems sacrilegious in this day and age. There are almost as many outdoor decorations in my neighborhood as there are at Christmastime. Goblins and ghouls at least two stories high grace the lawns; and there are many inflatable decorations that lay flat on yards all day, then magically morph into Charlie Brown and the Great Pumpkin at night. The best decoration I ever had was a huge pinata fashioned as a witch riding a broom, which I hung from a tree in my front yard. I’ve also been known to put out a decorative door mat.

Despite my bad attitude, my front porch light will be burning on Thursday night and I’ll have plenty of M&M’s and mini Snickers bars, as usual. But I’ll really miss having my girls here. They were always happy to answer the door and greet the car loads of strangers’ children who were bused in from the hinterlands. (I know this because there are exactly TWO children of trick or treating age who live on our entire street.) My girls were even kind to the teenagers who appeared later in the evening with their pillowcases out-stretched. Oh well, perhaps a glass or two of Chardonnay will help me smile and cheerfully greet my little visitors. I wouldn’t want to be known as the neighborhood *itch. (Rhymes with witch.)

Happy Halloween!