The news alert flashed on my screen, disappearing as quickly as it appeared. Another runaway truck mowing down pedestrians on a city street. The location initially did not register, just my despair that such incidents seem to be happening with ever more unnerving frequency. And, then, the timing, making it even more an outrage. It’s Halloween.
The annual scare fest was on my mind, especially after spending the run-up to the holiday in New York visiting my kids and grandkids. I had admired pumpkins picked fresh from the patch waiting to be transformed into smiling jack-o’-lanterns and wicked witches and spectral skeletons dangling from porch rafters. I had been treated to the costume previews, and even snagged a few chocolates from the stash hidden away for the hordes of trick or treaters to come. The city was awash in orange and black, ghosts and goblins festooning storefronts and door fronts, the spirit of devilish fun contagious.
And now this. Swiping through the photos of my grandkids dressed up and mugging for the camera, the proximity to the random attack hit home. And then the messages, interspersed with the smiling faces. “We’re all fine. . . scary. . . thankfully we’re safe.” And then, “Thinking of you guys. Glad everyone is safe.” And another, “Horrific.” And, “Not at all the kind of scare we need on Halloween.”
Not on Halloween, nor on any other holiday, nor any day.
The killing of innocent bystanders, many tourists out for a day exploring the city, is unconscionable. I grieve for the victims, for lives cut too short, and for their families, for lives forever changed. And I grieve for all of us, for the safety and security we so often take for granted shaken yet again, for the frightening possibility of violence we are made to accept.
As reports fleshed out the story, as images flashed on my screen, I realized that just months ago I had traversed the very neighborhood of the gunman’s rampage on the way to visit an old friend. I had stopped to take a photo of nearby Stuyvesant High School for my son-in-law, an alum; now the elite school was a crime scene, photographed with a grisly image of a body on a stretcher in the forefront.
There is nothing to say when something like this happens, and, then, perhaps, everything to say. It helps to express my anger, it helps to express my fear, and it helps to express my resolve to carry on.
So the Halloween parade in New York’s Washington Square went on, even as the specter of the day’s violence hung heavy on the crowd. So little kids and big ones put on scary masks and went door to door filling their empty sacks with goodies. So neighbors opened their doors to greet the trick or treaters, admired their costumes, and shared their bounty of sweets. So little and not so little ones were not cheated out of their fun, were not cheated out of the elusive innocence of childhood on All Hallows Eve.
For even as the evil spirit of one man ran wild on a city street, they could traipse down the streets where they live, ring a bell or knock on a door and sing out the words, “trick or treat.”