The New York Marathon is on Sunday.
The Veterans Day parade goes up Fifth Avenue next Sunday.
And if terrorists do not outdo the Boston Marathon bombing or disrupt election night or wreak havoc on Veterans Day, it will not be for lack of murderous intent.
It will be because our protectors in law enforcement and the military have spent every minute of every hour of every day of the past 15 years tirelessly seeking to thwart them.
“Fronts on every front,” a counter-terror cop was saying on Friday. “Now it becomes one long event. What do you not focus on?”
The collective counter-terror effort generates such huge amounts of intelligence that it becomes a challenge to get through it all.
“You can‘t read War and Peace in a day even if you want to,” said the cop, who does not want to be identified because he is still in the midst of the unending fight.
And the sheer volume of what pours in is accompanied by the fear that you might fail to discern some crucial clue that could prevent an attack and save lives.
“You don’t want to miss anything,” the cop said.
And that worry is intensified by a weariness that comes from having given it your all for year after year after year.
“Everybody has a limit,” he noted. “You reach a saturation point.”
He is amused when the media periodically announces we are on a heightened alert.
“We are always on heightened alert,” he observed.
The cop’s role in our longest war began down in the smoldering ruins of the World Trade Center, recovering what remains could be found of his comrades and of murdered innocents.
As he and his fellow protectors then set out to catch the perpetrators of the biggest mass murder in American history and prevent future attacks, they were energized by the sense that the country was unified behind them.
That feeling began to fade too soon, but the protectors kept going, knowing that we were still at war even as most of America, even much of New York, came to imagine we were not.
In the meantime, the cop worked with military special forces operators who were deployed again and again and again. He was ever more in awe of their dedication and selflessness even as the choices for our next commander in chief in the war’s 15th year dwindled down to two possibilities who seem to present no real choice at all.
One is a con artist who was recorded boasting about grabbing women by the genitals and who derided the parents of a slain solider. The prospect of voting for Donald Trump causes the cop to remember taking Gold Star families to visit to Ground Zero when the Freedom Tower was rising from where the twin towers had once stood. He knew the construction workers from other times to be a rough-talking bunch.
“Every other word out of their mouth is a curse,” the cop noted.
But upon hearing that Gold Star families were visiting, the workers transformed. They were suddenly paragons of politeness as they came over to pay their respects.
“Gentle giants, talking to them like they were in Sunday school at church,” the cop recalls.
After the families left, the workers reverted to cursing, but the cop never heard them speak as Trump did on that Access Hollywood tape.
“Even when a Gold Star family wasn’t there, they never talked that way,” the cop says. “You never hear them talk like that.”
The other choice for commander-in-chief is Hillary Clinton. The prospect of voting for her has been made more difficult by conversations the cop has had with his children.
“You tell them, ‘Eat your spinach,” and they ask, ‘Why?’ and you tell them, ‘Because it’s good for you,’” he said. “Now you got, ‘If she’s done all these bad things, why isn’t she in trouble?’ If you can’t explain it or defend it, what do you do?”
He has had a hard time explaining even to himself how we ended up with these two choices.
“This is the best we can find?” he asked Friday.
He had learned bad from the terrorists and good from his fellow protectors and the gray area in between did not seem a place to be, most particularly in war time.
“It’s right or it’s wrong,” he said.
He then went back to being a force for good protecting us against the forces of bad. He will be out there on Sunday as the marathon presents a 26-mile long target and on Tuesday to guard against a terrorist attack timed to the election of a new commander-in-chief and on Friday to protect the parade in honor of veterans who have ensured that we have a choice at all, worthy or not.
“This week can’t go by fast enough,” the cop said.
The week got abruptly and harrowingly longer with word Friday afternoon that two of the cops out protecting the city from crime of every kind had been shot in a confrontation with a robber in the Bronx. Both were rushed to Jacobi Hospital but one, a sergeant, was beyond saving and died even as his family was being rushed to him. He is said to be the father of two. He leaves us with all the more obligation to honor the good, no matter how everything goes.