Anthrax sprinkled on Halloween candy. Nonspecific terrorist attacks on unnamed malls. Halloween is rapidly approaching, and I've noticed more Internet rumors and hysteria attached to this event since September 11 than I have at any time in the past. My children nervously repeat (daily, it seems!) the warning stories they hear in school, while their parents tell about the latest anthrax attacks and trade concerns about poisoned Halloween candy.

I understand these concerns, but don't share them. In fact, I seem to be curiously calm in the face of these general phobias, and in finding this difference, I have given some thought as to why.

Costumes for Halloween 2001

Retailers report that the Sept. 11 attacks have influenced costume choices this Halloween both for children and adults.

New favorites:
  • Firefighters
  • Policemen
  • Rescue workers
  • Uncle Sam
  • The Statue of Liberty
  • Predicted favorites:

  • Bob the Builder (preschoolers)
  • Harry Potter (school-age kids)
  • Can-can costume based on the film "Moulin Rouge" (adults)

    Source: Colleen McMillen, Toy Industry Association I was closely, but not directly, affected by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. My office building is next to the World Trade Center and has been closed since the attacks. It just reopened this week, but my company has not yet moved back. My husband and I know perhaps fifty people who are missing as a result of the attacks, people we worked with over the years whose offices were at the top of the two towers. My brother, a Navy officer, was involved in identifying the Pentagon dead and notifying the families. However, we lost no family members or particularly close friends. I am horribly saddened by the events, but proximity allows me to recognize the sharp difference between those who lost loved ones and those who did not. My life is relatively unaffected while others are changed forever.
  • I pondered this difference for a few days after the attacks, afraid that this close call meant my turn was coming, fearful for my family and myself. However, I can't live like that. So one morning I sat alone quietly and faced once again the inevitable fact: I will die one day, for one reason or another. And in facing that fact, I have found freedom from generalized fear.

    The attackers have affected my worklife, have affected business colleagues, and have affected neighbors and friends. However, to give in to general fear for my safety and the safety of others because the attacks have occurred is to give up living, to let the attackers win. I have developed some new habits of vigilance since the attacks but feel no need to keep my fear level high in order to fuel that vigilance.

    Thus, as Halloween Eve approaches, I'm having the same discussions with my children as always. They are not allowed to go out to trick or treat unsupervised. They will eat no candy until it's been inspected, and they will go only to neighborhoods we know. However, these are the same rules as last year. On the costume front, my son wants to dress as a soldier, but that was already his plan. My daughter's costume idea was influenced by the attacks--she and her friend have decided to be American flags (how I'm going to whip up that costume is still a mystery). And when they come home with the mall stories, I tell them these are just rumors and not to listen.

    The terrorists have planned more destruction for the American people. We don't know what those plans are. But think about it: There's no reason to assume that the children in my suburban neighborhood are any more at risk this Halloween than they are at any other Halloween. They are still more likely to be hit by a car than to be killed by terrorists.

    As I finished writing the above, a respected colleague came to me and told me about a shipment of anthrax-laced candy that had apparently been intercepted by the FBI. My initial reaction was to erase everything I'd written and completely rearrange the family's Halloween plans. After a few moments, however, reason prevailed. I recognized that if the story were true, one of the newspapers or television networks would be reporting on it, so any change of plans could wait until I'd had a chance to review the news and determine the truth of the report. I guess I'm not as unaffected by general fear as I thought.

    It would sure help, though, if normally rational people would think things through before repeating stories. Let the terrorists spread their fear without any assistance from us.

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