New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. If you don’t believe me, read Alan Colmes’ column, “Just Another Day in New York.”As a New York expatriate, I can tell you that those of us from “The City” — Westchester, Nassau and Suffolk counties, and Jersey (there ain’t nothing New about Jersey) — have endured a lot.
Not to downgrade the victims of Hurricane Katrina, mind you. Nature’s fury along with an inept White House and collective errors created its own catastrophe. I also don't mean to say that those who live on the Gulf Coast will suffer less in terms of great environmental and financial damages because of the sinking of BP’s Deepwater Horizon.
We really do not know how many attacks by foreign and domestic terrorists on America’s airports, railways, bridges and the like have been foiled since the first attack on the World Trade Center on February 26, 1993. I bet it is a lot more than we realize.
Unfortunately, we have still not fully comprehended the lesson of George Santayana: “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We did not learn our lessons after February 26, 1993. Will we learn anything from Katrina, Deepwater Horizon or New York?
We learned lessons from September 11, 2001, and we have been learning ever since. The Department of Homeland Security and its agencies, along with the state of New York and the NYPD, identified and arrested the now confessed bomber, Faisal Shahzad, within two and a half days after he parked his SUV in Times Square, with the keys to his home in it. That took great coordination of federal, state and local agencies, something nearly unheard of in 1993.
More important, three street vendors — two Vietnam veterans and one a naturalized American — saw the smoking truck and notified police. The Christian Monitor said it best: “A lot of zany things take place in Times Square. (The truck) could have been ignored.” It could have, but it wasn’t. Three guys saw something out of place and did something about it.
That was Sunday night. By Monday morning, New York was back to business as usual, or as usual as things get in New York.
New Yorkers have always been vigilant, even when life takes them hundreds of miles and decades away from home. Ask Kathy about me. Ask Mickie and Ramon at the New York Deli in Columbia or any other former New Yorker. Our heads are on a swivel, like an old Barn Owl.
Officer Jessie Haden of the Columbia Police Department told me that the department encourages you to call if you see a package where a package does not belong, if a person is doing something out of place, or if smoke is coming out of an empty and illegally parked SUV.
New Yorkers and New Orleanians also know no matter how much you plan for the worst-case scenario, you never have a plan for the next worst-case scenario. As Dan Collins of the Huffington Post wrote, “The one thing authorities probably can't do is protect us from The Next Big Thing.”
No one prepared for an illegally parked car (normal for New York) that smelled like firecrackers (not normal).
No one prepared for the “fail-safe” shut-offs to fail, and thus fail to keep the Gulf Coast safe from hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil.
Life is short enough. Roaming cameras will not solve the next felony in “The District.” The witness whose antennae goes up, warning that something is amiss, will. We learned our lesson from New York; it will be your eyes and ears that will prevent a crime – or terrorist attack.
However, living fearful for your safety 24/7 will make life shorter. That, my friend, is irrational and dangerous. Enjoy yourself and smell the flowers, go fishing, play golf. Allow yourself to run naked though the fields. Just remember, use at least SPF 15 and don’t let Officer Haden catch you.
The moral of this story is to have fun. Keep your eyes and ears open but enjoy life. Play while you keep yourself, your family and your neighbor safe. Yes, it can be dangerous out there, but not so dangerous to miss the world around you. Jump in, the water’s fine.
“Carpe Diem tamen Subsisto Vigulent.” Seize the day but stay vigilant.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at InkandVoice.com and the New York Journal of Books.