In the wake of the attack in Nice, and the abortive coup in Turkey, it occurs to us that each day, when we tune into the evening news, we are expecting to be regaled with the latest incidence of inexplicable violence.
- A few weeks ago, we met a wonderful attractive friend from California for an afternoon and early evening in New York City. A matinee and dinner at Joe Allen’s, preceded by a bit of walking around in Times Square (she is not a regular visitor). I arrived first at the theatre (by cab), waited a while, and when she showed up we went to an elegant wine bar for a shot of something before the curtain rose. When we approached our theatre, she led and was stopped, her handbag investigated, and then allowed to proceed. I, following, held open the panels of my blazer and the man with the wand couldn’t have cared less. Perhaps the police in NYC are more suspicious of women with handbags than men wearing suicide belts? In any case, after the show ended and before going onto dinner, we wandered a bit at 47th and Broadway, gaping at both the signage and stunned by the size and variety of the crowd. It was nearly impossible to walk from one side of the street to the other; it was impossible to stay on the sidewalks for safety. (This has recently been commented upon in The New York Times.) The point of all this is that it is virtually impossible not to become part of a “soft target” for terrorism in New York and no doubt in other cities. There is no way each pedestrian, or family, or romantic couple could be accompanied 24/7 by security guards on the lookout for trouble. During that one afternoon, and after my companion had flown across the country…after I had trained into Grand Central, as we entered the theatre, as we struggled through the crowds of visitors and sightseers on Broadway…we had both been part of “soft targets” no matter what we did. Wherever we go now, in buses, on foot, in elevators, in convenience stores, in restaurants, we are “soft targets.” Although we try to submerge this realization in the hustle of daily life, it is something we can no longer allow ourselves to forget.
- We have a friend and colleague who lives, as we do, in a quiet town of about 4000 people. The town is situated in picturesque countryside and is not the end point of many travelers or tourists. My friend, on 9/11, was living in a small coastal Connecticut town from which he could see the smoke and devastation occurring in lower Manhattan. He decided that very day that he would have to move, take his wife and daughter and try to find a community in which he felt safe and more removed from the possibility of international violence. He moved his family northwards and in time began to feel comforted and safe. Today he no longer feels quite so sanguine about the future. He will not enter any enclosed space that contains more than three other people. He knows where each “Exit” sign is and where it leads. He reconnoiters even going out to dinner, to the post office, to the dry-cleaners.
- The other afternoon, while watching political coverage of Mr. Trump’s vice-presidential selection process, the screen was filled suddenly with images of a possible coup in Istanbul. It was night in that city. Jets were overhead, the army on the move, and….we turned off the television set. Following every heinous deed in this country, and immediately after Nice, we no longer had the fortitude or patience to witness another slice of religious hatred, of political dissatisfaction, that would eventually lead to mass casualties. On that day, our own resistance to violence had built to such a degree that there was no longer room within us to watch, consider, absorb. We waited an hour before returning to the screen. By that time, what had been unclear was slightly more certain, enough so that we could begin to process what was happening in another part of the world that naturally would affect us here in the US.
The points we are trying to make here are two. Violence and its aftermath – riots, ambulances screaming, troops massing for action, marches beginning in thoughtfulness and ending in armed confrontations – really now is daily fare. We believe the recurrence of each bloody image reinforces our watchfulness and our caution. “If you see something, say something” has finally begun to take hold of the public imagination.
Secondly we are convinced that in this country, confronted by a rogue 19 thousand pound truck being driven into crowds to murder and maim, citizens would turn TOWARDS the action rather than run from it. Americans are curious and often brave. And perhaps even thoughtlessly so.
This is cold comfort but we believe it is also real comfort. We are not here to run from but to run towards, and to save, solve, stand firm.
This part of the new normal is not new. It’s what gives us all hope.