Column: Living in fear of tragedy

I carry my cell phone in the outer pouch of my schoolbag. I set it so while I am in class, and someone calls, it quietly and inconspicuously beeps once.

As I sat down for my 12:30 British literature class Tuesday, I put aside the newspaper that is filled with a new set of disturbing photographs and equally frightening text stemming from Monday’s crash. The professor didn’t get three minutes into his lecture when my phone emits a beep. I ignore it. Not a minute later, it beeps again. Now I’m worried.

As discreetly as possible, I reach into my bag and pull out the phone by its antenna. Two missed calls: one from a number I don’t recognize, the other from my girlfriend who knows I’m in class. Something horrible must have happened. I picture more planes plummeting to the earth, more buildings falling, more people screaming.

This situation has presented itself all too often since the attacks. Whether I’m at the movies, in class or in a deep sleep at my dorm, when the phone rings at an unusual time (ex. 9:05 a.m. on Sept 11. or 9:30 a.m. on Nov. 12), my first reaction is that the worst has happened.

I debate whether to get up and leave class, but no, there are still 71 minutes left, so I decide to remain seated, though hardly calm.

I focus my attention back on the lecture. We’re reading Milton’s Paradise Lost. How ironic, I think, as I begin to draw the parallels between the 325-year-old epic and the present-day situation.Much like Satan revolting against everything good, everything pure, so do the Islamic fundamentalists as they attack our liberty; our freedom as the president puts it.

And so we clash. Good versus evil. Right versus wrong. Pride versus cowardice. Just how Milton posed it. At least that’s how Americans see it.

Our enemy sees the war as a battle between Muslim faithfuls and Christian infidels; Islam against the West; Allah versus God. A jihad, or holy war, as the most wanted man on the planet, Osama bin Laden, said. But ask any Muslim-American, and they’ll tell you: This is no jihad.

As one Muslim student put it, jihad is a struggle or fight against internal and external desires in an effort to live up to the standards of Allah.

But bin Laden is as sure of his jihad as George W. Bush is sure of the military’s endurance of freedom. Unfortunately, that leaves the fate of our country uncertain and leaves those like me worrying when my phone rings more than once in a five-minute span. In effect, this war leaves many feeling “unsure.”

And this is how the terrorists have accomplished, in part, their goal, of dousing the nation in a wave of paranoia.

It ends up the call from the number that I didn’t recognize was a wrong number, and my girlfriend forgot that I had class and just wanted to chat.

So for now, I can sit down and obsess over what’s next. For now, I can relax and contemplate when the phone will ring, or beep, again and try to predict what news the call will bring.

Though most Americans are not fighting this war on the front lines, I think it’s safe to say that our worry-free way of life is gone, and part of our paradise, for now, is lost.

  • Ryan Meehan is The Oracle news editor.