I remember looking out the window and seeing people stream out of my work building.
Being old and out-of-date, the windows in our building had no screens and could be easily opened. I put my head out and glanced down. Two fire engines were parked across the street.
A colleague of mine rushed into my work office and came to my side. She put her head out the window beside me and said, “There’s rumors that in the post office on the sixth floor that someone found an envelope with suspicious looking white powder in it. Do you think we should evacuate too?”
We hadn’t been ordered to leave yet, but as I looked down I could see everyone else leaving the building.
Over the few weeks after 9/11, I lost count of the number of bomb scares and mysterious packages (with white powder that looked like Anthrax) that were found in our building—all were false alarms. I never knew when the next attack might come. But they did. In 2005 there was the London bombing, then in 2008 the Mumbai attack, in 2013 the Boston Marathon bombing and now I am waking up to the horror of the most recent Paris attacks.
After 9/11 my colleagues and I rushed to an army and navy supply store and bought gas masks. The rumor at the time is that terrorists would hit soft targets such as subways to spread fear into the hearts of everyday Americans. Pranksters continued to call in bomb threats and even a simple mistake such as someone leaving a package unattended on a train caused great fear. I would go to work in the morning, holding my bag on my lap and I had a plan. If a bombing took place while I was on the subway, I would put on my gas mask, pull out my flashlight, get on the tracks and make for an exist as fast as I could go.
And now it’s 2015 and more than 150 people are dead in Paris (with that number possibly to rise) with hundreds more wounded. A coordinated attack in six different locations took place in Paris yesterday. Parisians were enjoying dinner, a concert and a soccer match. They had no time to make a plan. Today I watch the news and all my fears of attacks after 9/11 have come back to me. A great fear rose up in me back then because I did not know if my wife or I would be safe. Each morning I would kiss her and tell her that I loved her as though it might be my last. None of us knew anything and each of us had a decision to make: Would we live constantly in fear or would we choose to keep going about our daily lives?
The French are now going through that same process today. And as the plot is unwound and discovered, the effects of the attacks will ripple across the world. None of us know when the next attack will be, what country, city, date or time. I cannot know the answers to any of that, but I remember what I chose then and what I’ll choose now. The day after the 9/11 attacks I, along with hundreds of others, stood in line for hours to donate blood for the survivors. I remember seeing the photos in the newspapers on September 12, 2001 of people choosing to jump off the World Trade Center rather than to face the fire or the buildings’ collapse. I felt helpless, and even though I didn’t know how I could help, I gave my blood even though I lived in Philadelphia and was close to 100 miles away. I just wanted to help.
Today I send my thoughts and prayers out to everyone in France. I will watch the news to learn more about what happened, but there is one thing that I will not do. I will not give in to fear or panic. What I will do is spend time with my wife and children. I choose to spread love and joy to those around me. The world in which we live in is so different than what I had imagined as a kid. Yes, there are times that I feel helpless, but I am not. I have my thoughts, words and deeds and I can make a difference. The horror that I’ve seen on TV and on social media is more graphic and immediate then back in 2001, but the choices that I have are the same. Whatever group caused these attacks wants people to be frightened and cowered by the bloodshed. But I will not do that. I’ll be honest: Yes, I fear that similar attacks could happen in a big city in the United States. What has happened in Paris has been a fear of mine for the last 14 years. But I will not let that fear rule me.
Instead I choose love. I choose life. I choose to help.
Author: Ron Vitale
Editor: Travis May