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'Let's Continue to Look Out for Each Other'
An essay by NPR's Scott Simon

audio Listen to Simon's essay.

NPR's Scott Simon
Scott Simon

Oct. 20, 2001 -- The folks who now sort our mail while wearing rubber gloves brought up a package yesterday with a return address in Florida that we didn't recognize, and there was an almost embarrassed concern. We'd been making brittle little jokes about being on watch for white envelopes postmarked New Jersey, but as the number of anthrax exposure datelines has spread from Florida, New York and Washington, DC, to Rio and Kenya, it didn't seem wise to let chagrin override caution.

We called our security people. They did some checking and discovered that the box had been sent by a nice woman named Shirley. She'd crocheted a blanket for us while listening to our coverage since September 11th. In fact, the small blanket is an afghan. Shirley sent it to say thanks. When I called her up to say thank you and apologized for making her the subject of the small security investigation, Shirley said, "That's all right, dear, it's just the world we're living in now."

Officials have rightly emphasized that the actual number of people infected with anthrax has been small -- although it should not be forgotten that one man died, Bob Stevens, a photo editor at American Media in Florida. But it is difficult to put a precise toll on the cost of everyday worry and fear.

"Officials have rightly emphasized that the actual number of people infected with anthrax has been small -- although it should not be forgotten that one man died, Bob Stevens, a photo editor at American Media in Florida. But it is difficult to put a precise toll on the cost of everyday worry and fear."

Scott Simon

The baby of an ABC News producer was seriously and painfully sick for two weeks before anthrax was diagnosed and treatment begun. The baby is expected to recover, but it is hard to say that his family has not suffered from a terrorist attack. I have a friend who works at another network who says that when she sat down and tilted back her head so a doctor could swab her nose to test for anthrax, she began to cry. A number of other people around her, she says, also began to blink with tears. "To feel the swab reach up into your head," she says, "made it almost painfully plain how deeply forces we cannot see or foretell might reach into our lives."

Last week, some observers questioned the consistency of President Bush advising American citizens to go out and pick up their normal lives, but be on watch for some unspecifiable terrorist attack. This week and in the weeks, months, maybe even years to come we might see that the president was merely stating something basic and obvious about this changed world.

"We must go out and live our lives," as Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said the other day, "because other people have died to save them." In fact, at least two US soldiers died last night. But we might need to develop a special touch in this new world for being wary and watchful while staying open to friendship, even fun. As Shirley in Florida said, "Thanks for calling, dear. Let's continue to look out for each other."

Scott Simon is host of NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday.