Simon Says

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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

A Familiar Chill in New York

This week's small plane crash in New York City proves that we are deeply moved by our memories. But human beings cannot stay scared all the time. And other feelings — from resignation to restlessness — can and will win out over fear.


When the small plane carrying Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, smashed into a Manhattan skyscraper along the East River this week, many New Yorkers, and people around the country, felt a familiar chill. Cinders falling, flames flaring, sirens howling, people crying. Five years from that September 11th that needs no year to be recalled, we can still be hurt by our memories.

I got stuck in a subway in London a few months ago for about 20 minutes. It must happen 20 times a day in the vast beehive that is London transit. Londoners quite famously are not a panicky lot, but I didn't hear any passengers say, oh, it must be just some small technical problem. We spoke softly and looked around tentatively, submerged in our thoughts of loved ones and lost chances in life. I think we all assumed something worse. Then the train started, ripples of relieved laughs ran up and down the car.

I don't know if fright alone does physical damage, but covering wars has taught me that human beings cannot stay scared all the time, any more than they can blush for 18 hours a day. At some point resignation wins out over worry and fear.

Anyone who's 15 years old today has seen spacecraft fall, infants starve, subways burst and skyscrapers smashed. We've heard so much about cancers, treacherous car suspensions, trans fats, lasers blinding airplanes, AIDS blighting continents, asbestos, hypertension, drug addiction, drunk driving, bone spurs, swine flu, Christmas tree electrocutions, cholesterol, high-speed car chases, Category 5 hurricanes, mad cows and choking on chicken bones, that it sometimes seems a miracle anyone gets to be 30. And - oh, yes - a lot of people are frightened about old age too. Not death so much as helplessness, pain and boredom.

A lot of people try to cite statistical arguments to acquit us of fear, reminding us that the statistical chances of our lives being lost in a terrorist act is small, and yet the statistical chance that any terrorist act in a familiar landscape will infiltrate our fears is overwhelming.

But statistics can seem an unreal basis in which to live your life. Would anyone get married if they thought too much about the fact that more than 50 percent of all marriages in the United States end in divorce? Would Derek Jeter ever stride up to home plate if he focused on the statistical fact that even he stood only a third of a chance of success?

Fear is a force all its own, and yet airplane flights have never been more crowded. Great cities - New York and London especially - abound with visitors. The desire to go, see, live and do, even simple restlessness, can win out over fear.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small