On Paris and Fear

This piece originally appeared on Bed Crumbs.

Paris was attacked on Friday. More than 120 people were killed. Several more are injured. I’ve spent eight of the past 24 hours on a train, doing not much more than thinking about what happened, trying to process how I feel, which is mostly heartbroken and horrified. My heart breaks for the losses of innocent lives as a human, but particularly as a New Yorker, I am, to be completely honest, afraid.

This fear is something you sort of learn to compartmentalize when you live in a big city. Whenever people ask me if I’m afraid to live in New York, if it makes me nervous to go to meetings in One World Trade, if I ever feel uneasy on the subway, I roll my eyes. I get irritated and annoyed. They’re so backwards and small town and paranoid, I think. I’m not afraid — why would I be afraid? September 11th was 14 years ago. The city is safe and secure now, I tell myself. I have nothing to be afraid of.

But the reality is, in post-9/11 America, it’s hard to not be afraid. It’s difficult to be blissfully naive to the ever-present possibility of something happening. It happened before. What if it happens again? Because it can happen again. That fear and nervousness and level of near-constant alertness does exist – I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t – but always on a subconscious level. The way If you see something, say something loops in the back of my brain. I’ve probably become so used to never being at ease, never feeling truly safe that this feeling has become my baseline normal. The fear has been something I’ve almost become unaware of. Until now, at least.

Because anytime things like this happen, terrorist attacks at marathons or at newspapers or at rock concerts, I am reminded immediately of how easily that could be me. How easily that could be anybody in a big city. These things don’t happen in suburbia, which is where I am from. They happen in the largest cities in the world, the epicenters of business and culture and life, which is where I am now.

That’s a choice I made. I decided to live in New York, for better or worse. It’s a decision that, in a way, is a risk, one that places myself in the way of danger, and I don’t really know what to do about it. What can you do about it? Live in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, far away from any threat of violence and danger? I couldn’t. That’s not living. That’s hiding. I don’t want to live my life ruled by fear. I love the city and the life I lead here too much to run away because I’m scared.

But I am scared. I have to let myself say that. A concert hall and restaurants were targets in Paris this week, and that’s really shaken me, because that’s such a huge part of who I am and what I love most.

I live for going out with friends. I live for concerts, especially. Not only that, but I know people who travel the world for music, to go to concerts in far off places or to work on tours, because music is their life. I think about how that could have been me or them or any of my friends. These people just wanted to listen to good music or work for a band doing what they loved or eat a good meal or drink with friends and enjoy their Friday nights. Just like me. Just like my friends. And now they’re dead.

I’m scared. Because it’s not high level operations like hijacking planes to fly into the biggest buildings in America anymore. It’s small. It just takes one or two people to inflict major damage. I can’t stop thinking about how easily it could happen in New York, where I’ve walked into Madison Square Garden with little more than a glance at my bag. It could happen in New York, where I hang out downtown on the weekends, far from the concentrated police presence like Times Square tourist trappings, where anyone could open fire in an instant. It could happen in New York, where I ride the subway on a daily basis knowing that literally anybody could walk on with a suicide bomb vest at any point.

So why do I live in New York, then, knowing what I know? Why does anybody? Is any place really safe anymore? I’m not sure. I got off the subway today at Columbus Circle and noticed how many more cops there were outside the Time Warner Center. I walked by two NYPD Terror Unit officers, glanced at their utility vests and machine guns. So this is how it’s going to be now, I thought.My trip to Whole Foods will now be accompanied by military personnel. Surely I’m not the only one a little freaked out by that. Surely I’m not the only one who thinks that’s a little fucked up.

Mostly, I’m just sad. I’m just sad and worried and weary that I live in this kind of a world, one where such horrific violence is not just a possibility, but almost an expectation or something to be prepared for (although you never really can be prepared for it).

I want to go to the movies. I want to go to concerts. I want to run races. I want to go to work. I want to ride trains and fly in planes. I want to live my life. And I want to do that all without feeling some fear, however small, however buried it may be, that something bad could happen.


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