In the 1950's, I was a little boy. Our great national fear was the nuclear bomb. We had used it in the previous decade to destroy two cities in Japan, and now we were worried that the Soviet Union would use it on us.
I remember an outdoor religious service on Sunday evening at the Richwood Fair. The preacher told us about the neutron bomb, which could send out enough radiation to kill millions of us at once. His intent was to frighten his audience, and it worked.
Another time there was some kind of international crisis. It might have been the collapse of the summit meeting in Geneva in 1955, or the Hungarian revolution or the dispute over the Suez Canal in 1956, or something else. At any rate, one afternoon my mother found me upset and crying. She asked what was wrong. She must have been surprised by my answer: "The world situation." But she calmly told me that she had found it best not to worry about those matters that we can't control, and somehow that helped.
Recall the serenity prayer: "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Today, in this city, thousands are upset and crying, and millions are subdued and somber. Skyscrapers have been destroyed with great loss of life, and we are warned that there may be more terror to come. More planes could be hijacked, or we could be attacked with anthrax or smallpox or sarin or mustard gas or even nuclear bombs, with much greater losses. Like the last attack, the next terror will strike us when we're not expecting it, and we will be helpless to stop its effects; we can only hope to escape. With this multitude of possible perils, is there any wonder that we are afraid?
Yet we cannot and must not live afraid. Bombs can destroy us, but so can fear; either way, we have no life left.
I'm left with this happy thought: I'm going to die someday. Something, some one thing, is going to get me. It might be tomorrow; it might be decades from now. It might be a terrorist attack; it might be a car accident or a mugging; more likely, it will be a disease. I should take prudent precautions against all of these perils; however, despite my best efforts, eventually one of them will kill me. But only one! They can't all get me.
As Shakespeare's Julius Caesar puts it in Act 2, Scene 2:
Cowards die many times before their deaths;
Of all the wonders that I yet have heard,