Living with terror after 9/11


Each person who works at The Riverdale Press got the phone call on Tuesday morning. Probably nearly everyone who lives in Riverdale got it.

“An airplane has hit the World Trade Center. It’s in flames.” Then the appalling sequel: The second plane. The confirmation that terrorists had attacked New York. The collapse of the twin towers. The assaults in Washington, D.C.

In our office, people wept. All over Riverdale, the same tears were shed. Teachers and parents hid their stricken faces from the little children at P.S. 81 to spare them from the horror.

Residents of the top floors of Spuyten Duyvil co-ops could see the smoke shrouding the tip of Manhattan — those on the lower floors found only a bright autumn day in their windows. Riverdale is defined by its distance from Manhattan: Close enough, yet far enough. That tension imparted a feeling here that was something eerie.

Those who had loved ones working downtown were frantic, but quotidian life went on. Traffic may have been a bit sparser, conversation a bit more hushed. But shoppers shopped. Drivers drove. Workmen worked. Perhaps that itself is a testament to an unquenchable optimism that is the cornerstone of the human spirit.

By all accounts, New Yorkers responded courageously to the assault. Emergency workers were magnificent. Journalists — who, like police, are often maligned — risked their own safety to keep us informed.

Young people found the suicide bombing incomprehensible. We can be thankful for that. They have lived through no war. Their consciences haven’t been taxed by their country’s mistakes. They haven’t watched friends or family sent to kill and face death.

Their indignation was raw.

“Daddy, what kind of sense does it make for people to kill themselves, and kill people they don’t know because of something that happening in another country?” asked a college student. It may be a naive question, but it’s the right one.

None of us are innocent any longer, however. We all flinched at each drone of an airplane overhead on Tuesday. We all wondered, “What’s next?”

If what’s next is a retaliatory raid somewhere on the other side of the world, only the terrorists will have profited. They welcome death — their own, and others’. They will celebrate if American bombs kill innocent people and lead others to vow to embrace martyrdom.

No one is invulnerable to terrorism, but it can be fought — not with bombs and bullets, but by refusing to give in. By staying the course we believe is right.

Ultimately, it can be vanquished. But only by building a world that offers justice to all.

— Originally published Sept. 13, 2001

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