As the coronavirus pandemic spreads, I know many of you at home — and certainly many of us here — have been reflecting on the last time our city was brought to its knees: the terror attacks on September 11, 2001.
COVID-19 and 9/11 share many of the same elements, but there are distinct differences.
In the blink of an eye our world changed that day — our sense of security shattered, friends and colleagues killed, our economy rocked.
But we had the luxury of anger back then, a malevolent enemy to despise. The dangers were obvious. The risks were manageable.
Now the danger is measured in microns, invisible and mindless. The disaster is unfolding slowly. Instead of revealing itself in a single, explosive morning, it is 9/11 in slow motion, the toll in lives and economic destruction rising daily.
After the attacks of 9/11, we sent our warriors to the other side of the world to avenge the dead and protect the homeland. It was an away game.
Now, the enemy is here — spreading among us with near impunity. It is a distinctly home game. Our warriors are those indescribably courageous medical professionals putting their lives on the line every hour of every day – tireless in their mission to save us.
9/11 brought us together. We buried our petty differences and linked arms as New Yorkers, as Americans. We gathered to weep as the smoldering pile grudgingly gave up the dead.
COVID-19’s victims die in isolation without the final comfort of a loved-one’s hand – and we are denied the final farewell of a funeral gathering. COVID-19 has driven us apart. Safety is isolation.
After 9/11, the suicide bomber was the signature, if distant, threat. Now we must regard any fellow human being with wary suspicion – a possible vector of suffocating death. Get no closer than six feet. In the age of contagion our humanity has gone digital.
But there are common elements between then and now that we must consider above all else. Just as we did back then, with compassion and ingenuity we’re finding ways to help each other. And after 9/11, after the shock and loss, we recovered. We went to work rebuilding our city, our economy and our lives. We emerged stronger than ever. This pandemic will pass – and as certain as the sunrise, we will do it all again.
I've learned something covering this city for nearly half a century — from its bankruptcy in 1975 that generated the Daily News headline, "Ford to City: Drop Dead," through recessions and riots, 9/11, the near depression of 2008. And now the pandemic.
There were times when you could have gotten 50/50 odds that New York was finished.
This is a resilient city, and a resilient country. Don't ever bet against us.