“Everyone is OK. We’re all are home.” Read the text message from my former host brother in Berlin. Sitting in a work meeting, I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Ok… glad you’re all OK?” I texted back.
Little did I know then, someone had rammed his truck into a Christmas Market, close to where my host family lives, killing 11 people. It was just like what happened in London yesterday.
I know those streets back from when I lived in Berlin. I’d been to that market before, been tipsy on Glühwein, browsed the kitschy gingerbread hearts, and bought trinkets for family back home.
From Paris to Berlin, and most recently London, these recent attacks are surreal. They seem far away to people like me living in Midwestern cities. I even take comfort in this fact: that my family is probably safer because our hometown is a far cry from a sprawling European metropolis. What kind of statement would a Columbus, Ohio attack make?
But that being said, fear still permeates my every day. This morning when we learned that the person behind the JCC attacks is a teenager in Israel, I thought about the connection between this story and yesterday’s London attacks. One was fatal and one was a hoax, sure; but in each situation, a person or small group, intent on creating chaos and terror, was able sow fear among so many other people, amplified by the media and internet.
This weekend, we’re going to a concert, and as usual, I’ll text my mom the details. I’ve been doing this since the Paris concert shooting. I’ll text her the name of the concert, the location and the number of the babysitter. Because in the back of my mind, I know that none of us are safe. I know that the terrorists’ goal is to disrupt the everyday, to scare ordinary citizens into withdrawing from normal life.
This reality is something new for all of us; for my generation, my parent’s and my grandparent’s. They lived in a time of wars and when it was common for American public figures like MLK, JFK, RFK to be assassinated. But acts of terror, directed at ordinary people like us, were not something they grew up with.
Things are different now, and no one is safe. You can go to the movie theater, and not come out alive. You can take a walk on a college campus and get stabbed by someone wielding a knife. Domestic or foreign, these threats are realer than ever. Violent crime may be down overall, but the fear isn’t rational. These kinds of random attacks are the newest way to strike at the heart of civilization.
The more I think of this, the more trepidation I feel, and the guiltier I feel: what kind of person was I to bring my sweet son into this messed up world? What kind of society do I belong to that would nurture its own destruction? What are we doing wrong?
I want to find a balance between reflection, rumination and just trying to live life. Because these are scary thoughts. Couple them with some good-ole Jewish neurosis, and mazel tov, you’ve just awakened some serious phobias, maybe even some OCD-like behaviors.
It’s important to think about how to stay safe. It’s important to reflect on how we got here. And it’s also okay to be afraid, because we’re human. But we can’t shut our doors and stay inside—we can’t just get off the field. At the end of the day, the only thing standing between us and those who threaten us is our willingness to let fear take over. Concerts, places of leisure, nightclubs: they attack the places where we come together to enjoy life. We can’t give up on that.