Wednesday morning, as I stood in line to buy a bagel from a street kiosk on the corner of 39th Street and Lexington Avenue, I observed a pair of policemen with a bomb-sniffing dog who were checking out a pair of propane tanks sitting in a box on the sidewalk. Standing nearby were two soldiers, one carrying an assault rifle in an alert guard position, his finger laid next to the trigger. He watched the crowds streaming past with a grim, almost dead expression. It may have been the heat that oppressed us all was affecting him doubly, in his full camouflage dress and carrying a pack and weapon, a cap upon his head. It may have been his awareness that if this were a real bomb, he’d be only the fifth of many to die, milliseconds after the policemen, their dog, and his comrade. He may simply have been bored by yet another false alarm.
Thursday morning, I heard the news from London—another series of explosions, patterned much like the ones that came before, but mercifully less damaging. I remembered how, while in London six weeks earlier, an abandoned package at the station near Picadilly Circus had triggered a security alert, shutting down the Central Line we were riding at the time and forcing us into the cloud-softened sunlight above. I wondered how many suicide bombers England could produce. Later in the day came the news that London police had shot to death a man on the subway. It seems not so long ago that the stereotype of an English policeman was that his only weapon was to shout, “Stop! Or I’ll say stop again!”
Friday afternoon, I took a cab to Penn Station and caught the train to Newark Liberty International Airport, where the security lines were surprisingly short. As I rolled my suitcase through the concourse, the daily tabloids all screamed that random baggage searches were being conducted on New York City’s subway system.
This morning, as Carolyn climbed the stairs of her favorite slide at the local playground, I stood below and struggled to moderate my instinct to protect her from any possible harm, knowing that a few honest scrapes and bruises are a part of growing up—maybe an essential part—and that she would almost certainly get down the slide, smiling in delight, without hurting herself in any way.
But I still ask myself and will ask myself how much pain is too much, and how much protection is too much, every day of her life.