When I was a kid and people would ask me where I lived, their reaction was usually: "New York City? Ohhh, isn't it scary growing up there?"
Admittedly, the Upper West Side in the 1970's and 80's probably was more dangerous than the suburbs where most of the people asking me this question lived. But despite the muggings and the drugs and the gunshots, I always felt safe. New York was more than just my home; it was my friend, my confidant. Fiercely loyal yet moody, the city was my second mother. My protector.
Then 9/11 happened. And like every other New Yorker and American, I no longer felt safe. This feeling stayed with me longer than I expected. But no amount of Zoloft or Xanax could quell my constant state of anxiety and paranoia. My heart was broken and I couldn't shake the profound sense of loss and confusion. As I walked around the city I loved, I longed to go back to the time when my worst memory was having my bike stolen from me as I was sitting on it in front of my school. People who didn’t live here would ask, don't you think it’s time to leave?
How could I? My entire life was here. And I was so sure the city would never betray me again.
A few days ago, on Halloween, there was another terrorist incident, just a few subway stops away from where I live now with my husband and two young daughters. Eight people were killed. Eleven people were injured. It was not the first attack to take place in New York since 9/11, but it was the first time I fully accepted the fact that this is the new reality - not just in my city and my country, but throughout our entire world.
Now that I am a parent, dealing with the randomness of terrorism is even more overwhelming. Nothing prepares you for how to explain it to your kids or how to make them feel secure. I read a story in the New York Times about a Tribeca family's experience of the recent attack (which literally transpired on their corner) which has helped ground me a little, as this new “normal” begins to sink in. The author reminded me that our city, though vulnerable, is one of the “safest and most welcoming.” And I realized that it isn’t the city that protects us, but the people. My people. New Yorkers are made up of the stuff that doesn’t break. We are resilient, forceful, open and strong.