My typical Sunday morning routine includes a run through Central Park that ends at Columbus Circle for a coffee and the week's grocery shopping at the Whole Foods on the basement level of the Time Warner Center, a higher-end shopping mall.
Today, as I emerged with my typical two bags of groceries for the week, I rounded my usual corner to walk to the entrance to the subway, and I proceeded to nearly run into a member of the NYPD's Hercules Team. Big guy, probably my age or a little older, helmet, sunglasses, bullet-proof vest, and an automatic rifle. I was taken aback at first, but then as I continued my walk to the subway it dawned on me: my grocery store is a so-called soft target. Or in a building that is considered a soft target. This also explained the police barricades up all around Columbus Circle.
The huge loss of life in the past two weeks has certainly been on my mind a lot. I took two transatlantic flights since the Russian airliner was shot down over Egypt, and my nerves were a little frayed both times. Last night we ate dinner at a French restaurant on the Upper West Side, one that we eat at almost every week. It was business as usual. They seated us like they usually do, and only halfway through the meal did I realize that my back was to the door. I had a thought: "I wouldn't see it coming." "It" being someone with a rifle, like what had happened in Paris the night before. Or in Baghdad or Beirut a few days before. The people across the table would, but would that be quick enough for all of us to take cover? I looked over my shoulder, had a moment of panic, and then decided to just breathe it down. "Do not catastrophize this, Joey." But between that moment and what I saw this morning, I understand that something is different.
As I write this, I know these are my First World Problems. People in other countries in the Middle East face these realities every single day. Their grocery stores, market places, bars, and restaurants have been soft targets for decades. I've got to find a way to know more of those stories, so that my empathy grows, so that my privileged position doesn't numb me but rather somehow produces more compassion and understanding about why these things happen. Knowing the stories is the only way to go here.