Elizabeth Greason | Tuesday, October 25, 2016
My first real memory — the first thing I know for a fact that I genuinely remember — is watching the twin towers fall.
I was four years old at the time and my parents and I lived in London; all of our relatives lived in New York. I begged my mom to change the channel on the television from the news to one of my favorite shows. But she was glued to the TV and at some point, my four-year-old self picked up on the fact that something was wrong. The TV was playing the same, scary scene over and over and my mom looked panic stricken as she tried to get in touch with family members.
By the time the July 7 bombings in the London tube system took place in 2005, I was seven and we were back living in New York. I got up that morning, got ready for summer camp and turned on the “Today” show, just like every morning. But I was met with the sounds of sirens and images of ambulances, stretchers and people crying behind barricades. And this time, I was old enough to know what it meant. I vividly remember running to my parents’ room and breathlessly informing my mother that there had been attacks in London.
I adamantly refused to take the subway for a few years after that morning. I blamed it on a fear of rats, but I was in fact afraid of being caught underground during a terrorist attack that seemed plausible, even inevitable in New York City.
Growing up in New York, the idea of threats became commonplace at a young age. So commonplace that they stopped affecting me. The fear that permeated my life and the lives of my friends, when I was younger could be avoided totally if I lived in a state of naivete, ignoring much of what was going on in the world. The things that I knew were bad and scary when I was little scarcely cause me a second thought today, despite the fact that in our world it’s nearly impossible to avoid the constant stream of news about violence. The majority of the time I tune it out. And that always worked for me.
Then in September, a bomb went off in Chelsea, which, granted, is across the city from where I live but still only three miles away.
And I did nothing. I didn’t react. I didn’t check with friends or family to see if everyone was okay. Despite it being plastered all over the news, the various alerts I received on my phone and countless Facebook posts, the idea that there had been an attack mere miles from my home barely registered with me.
It was not until I got a text from a friend a few days later that said, “How are you doing with everything that’s happened in New York? your fam and your city are in my prayers,” that I even realized the severity of what had happened. And that scared me almost as much as the idea that a bomb had gone off and severely injured multiple people, essentially in my backyard. It scared me that I had become so desensitized to violence and terrorism that I considered an explosion to be run-of-the-mill.
I’ve learned that there is a happy medium when it comes to topics like terrorism. By no means should you overreact, because there definitely is such a thing. Don’t stop taking the train out of fear, like I did. But you do need to react. I need to force myself to think when I hear about something on the news, as much as I may wish to tune it out and pretend nothing happened. Just because violence is something that has become ever-present and increasingly prevalent around the world and in our lives does not mean that we can allow it to become unremarkable — that can have just as scary a result as what we are ignoring.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.