The Old Fear Is Back. the Questions Never Left.
They hit the London Underground today, three explosions that rattled the sewercaps (or whatever they top their sewers with in London) in the minutes before and after 9 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time.
It’s quitting time for the working folks here in Greensboro, hours and hours after the attacks across the pond, and a steady curtain of fat raindrops fall, backed by distant rumbling from the skies to the west. There’s been some talk of tornadoes, but that’s the extent of the danger in the air in these parts.
I’ve just returned from a trip to New York, where no doubt the commuters will experience some angst on their cross-island jaunts this afternoon.
And I drove through Washington, DC just a few days ago, on the Fourth of July. Uniformed lawmen stood sentry at the tollbooths when we passed through, and state troopers policed all roads into town, running out on the highway and pulling cars over at random. And this was three days before the attack in London. Today the roads out of town will most likely be watched, not for terrorist activity but for spooked civil servants beelining for the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia and not caring whom they cut off or blow by on their route.
I’m feeling some of that fear again, the fear that crept over me back in 2001 after I saw the second plane hit and both of the twin towers crumble into dust. For weeks afterwards you could see the smoke in pictures taken from space.
And though I was safe in Greensboro, I could almost hear the crying from here, the outpouring that resulted from human loss on such a massive scale and for such vague reasons.
I still don’t know why they took the towers down. It’s four years later and the pundits and analysts have had at it, the politicos and heads have spun it and the historians have written it down. But still I don’t know what drove these people to kill so indiscriminately and in such a large numbers.
They hate us for our freedom? I’m not buying it.
I can’t hear the cries today ‘— maybe they’re not as powerful or they’re too far away, or maybe for its own protection my body tunes out sounds like those after that first experience. I can’t hear the cries but I can feel the fear, feel it coursing through the town even as the rain washes through the streets and gathers in the gutters.
It’s coming down pretty good now, loud enough to hear even though I’m safely holed up in a downtown coffee shop. The rumbling grows louder and the flashes in the sky make the lights dim inside.
The fear is there today, but it’s not as bad this time ‘— maybe because it happened so far away or because not as many people are dead. Maybe because I don’t know anybody who suffered in the aftermath ‘— I have nobody to add to the list of people I know (or knew) whose lives were irrevocably changed or permanently ended on that day back in September 2001.
Oh yes, the fear has come home here on Elm Street today, snuck in quietly through the back door, and it’s evident in the faces of the coffee shop patrons as they glance up from their newspapers and laptop consoles, as they speak in hushed tones and flinch when thunder rattles the room.
We’re probably pretty safe here in Greensboro. Probably. I don’t think al Qaeda’s agenda includes taking out the Jefferson Pilot Building or crashing an errant jet into CafÃ© Europa on Wine Wednesday. But I’m less certain these days about a lot of things, especially the machinations of global Islamic terrorist organizations. I do believe that this is not the last time that innocents will be killed in the name of Allah and in defiance of our way of life.
I don’t know when they’ll strike next, and I don’t know how they’ll do it. And I’m not sure I’ll be prepared when it comes, no matter how many bottles of water and rolls of duct tape I’ve stockpiled.
I do know that the fear has made me smaller, has caused me to react with a kind of relief when I heard about the terrorist bombings on the London Underground because it did not happen in my neighborhood, my town, my state. As the death toll rises I know that my family is safe, that my friends are alive, and for now, at least, my most pressing danger is the rain-slicked road that will take me home.