Deminski: Why New Jersey can’t ignore terror anymore
Fifteen years ago, New Jersey was hit hard by terrorism. The act did not happen on Jersey soil. The pain did.
More than 700 families in the Garden State lost a loved one on Sept. 11, 2001, and their lives were forever changed. If you didn't lose somebody, it's likely you knew someone who did. My wife, Aubree, began babysitting a little boy after 9/11. Part of the reason his mom needed a sitter was because his daddy was lost in the tower attacks. It was nothing like being in the family itself, but she was there in the periphery, watching the heartache firsthand and helping a widow and her little boy who would grow up without his father.
In the years since, it was easy for some to grow complacent. For those who didn't lose anyone or know anyone who did, it was easy to begin to feel this was a one time tragedy. To believe our government had it handled. Our intelligence was strong enough that it wouldn't happen again here. Even as we saw attacks in places like Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, we rationalized that these are places that have never seemed stable. Even as the Paris, France attacks unfolded, we mentally separated ourselves feeling safe in the knowledge that this was not here on U.S. soil. Then when the Orlando nightclub massacre happened, we emotionally distanced ourselves thinking it was not our part of the country.
We humans do this all the time. It's a psychological survival instinct. Find what you don't have in common with the victims to make yourself feel like it can't happen to you. "Sure it happened here in the U.S. but I'm straight and don't go to those kind of clubs." Okay, but the Paris attack didn't take place at a gay club, it was a club with a rock band. "Sure, I could go to a club like that, but that was in Paris." We do this until we run out of ways to mentally distance ourselves.
A trashcan in Seaside Park along the route of a charity 5K meant that you just ran out of ways. A backpack right near the Elizabeth train station meant that it's really here, it was never a one-time tragedy, and you now feel a little foolish to have ever believed otherwise.
Was this a 15-year long moment, with 9/11 being the shock and this weekend the acceptance? Terrorism really is here. This is not going away any time soon. What we watched on our TVs happen within the borders of those lesser-in-our-minds, unfortunate countries is now here. Terrorism is in our neighborhood.
I talked to my 11-year-old son about it this morning. I watched my 1-year-old son playing blissfully unaware nearby. This is the world, and the New Jersey, they will inherit. I wondered to myself who had it worse? Me, for knowing what life was like before all this then seeing it lost? Or them, for never having known that feeling of American soil safety at all?
Don't get me wrong. We are Americans, and we are New Jerseyans. We are not going to cower. We are not going to change our ways. We are not going to stop living our lives. This moment reminds me of an exchange that happened before my time. I read that when President Kennedy was assassinated, American journalist Mary McGrory said to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, "We will never laugh again." To which he replied, "Mary, we will laugh again. But we will never be young again."
— Jeff Deminski
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