RIPPLES SPREADING IN UNEXPECTED WAYS

Burlington County Times, September 24, 2001

On Tuesday morning, September 11, I was writing my next column in my head while driving to work. as usual. Before leaving for work, I’d seen a cat – too healthy and sleek looking to be feral – in my yard, stalking the birds. I was going to begin my column with: “I love cats, but not when they trespass in my back yard with murderous intent.” A few minutes later, I knew that I would never be able to use that phrase about something so banal as outdoor cats.

The repercussions from the September 11 terrorist attacks have multiplied. Some effects – disruptions to business, uncertainty in the world economic markets, decreases in air travel – were foreseen. Airlines are laying off massive numbers of workers and are facing bankruptcy. The stock market is uncertain. American tourists due to arrive back in the U.S. have found themselves with extended foreign vacations. But the events of that morning have effected us, too, in ways that could not have been easily predicted.

It’s not just my self-censorship, but the entertainment industry’s, too, as movies are re-edited, Broadway openings are canceled, record covers are changed, TV programs are delayed, images of the World Trade Center are deleted, and plots involving hijacking are shelved. I wonder what programs like HBO’s “Sex and the City,” which are closely identified with New York, will do. Are they now frantically rewriting scripts to reflect the events of September 11, or are they ignoring them?

Rabbis in North Jersey and Connecticut have been told to expect 1,000 funerals. Whole neighborhoods find themselves without neighbors, soccer coaches, PTA presidents. Schools are dealing not only with the fears of their students, but with the new orphans in their classrooms. I read that 1,500 children of the employees of one company alone, Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 700 of its workers, have been left with only one parent – or with none. With close to 6,000 people confirmed dead or missing, the final number of parentless children could easily be ten times as high.

When I look at the names of the dead and missing who worked in the WTC, I’m struck by how young so many of them were. It’s as though a whole demographic group – well educated, mid-20s to mid-30s, urban, the “best and the brightest” – has been eliminated. But when I look beyond the WTC to all the victims, I see they were a cross-section of the United States, representing all professions, all races and religions and national origins, all ages.

My parents’ synagogue in Florida always has extra seats available for the High Holy Days because of the number of members who leave to visit their children. This year, they had to rearrange the chairs in order to add more, because no one was leaving the area – either because they were unable or unwilling to travel.

On an adoption forum on the Internet, couples waiting for children from abroad voiced their concerns that Americans will no longer be able to adopt children from other countries now that we are technically “at war.” The fear is that Russia, India, China and other nations will decide that it is too dangerous here. Other parents on the same forum who have already adopted children from other countries are worried that their children, many of whom are dark-skinned, will be the targets of bigotry.

On another forum, a woman who has been trying to become pregnant for some time is now rethinking her wish to have a baby. “How can I even think about bringing a child into a world like this?” she wrote. “Am I just being selfish to want a baby?” A friend whose daughter-in-law is due in December said her children echoed those sentiments, but my friend told them, “If my parents had thought that way, I wouldn’t be here – I was conceived during World War II.” I’ve heard others say that it’s not right to bring a child into such a world, but it’s usually uttered by those who have decided to remain childless and are explaining their reasons. I’ve never before heard the lament from people who do want to be parents.

And yet, there’s actually a positive repercussion. Having grown up in an urban neighborhood where kids could walk not just to school but to the movies, where you could knock on a neighbor’s door if you forgot your key, where everyone seemed to know everyone else, I have often lamented the lack of connectedness I’ve felt in the suburbs. Many of my neighbors are acquaintances, not friends. Yet, since September 11, we’ve become bonded in a new way. There is a feeling of community that did not exist before.

Leroy Homer, the co-pilot of the plane which crashed in Western Pennsylvania, lived only a block away from me, on the next cul-de-sac. I doubt if I’d ever exchanged words other than “trick or treat” with him and his wife. Yet I find myself asking their next-door neighbors, who I do know, if there is anything the family needs, if there is anything I can do to help.

They say that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. The one repercussion the terrorists did not expect – and did not want – is that we have become stronger.

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