I’ve been going back and forth on making a post on this blog about the events of yesterday, and what happened in Paris. It was a tragedy on all levels, and while it brought up old, stinging wounds in how much it reminds me and others of what happened on 9/11 in New York City, I’m finding the words difficult to pin down.
I saw something on Facebook, king of social media kings, about not praying for Paris, and praying for the world instead as there is violence ripping across non-European regions and bombings have occurred in other cities with minimal news coverage. I understand the intent behind the words, and while “world” would encompass Paris, it still left a strange taste in my mouth.
I know there’s a conversation to be had about where our focus goes depending on what region and what groups of people come under attack. I know the Syrian refugee crisis deserves more media attention than it has received. I know that here in America mainstream media only covers activity in the Middle East when there’s something really, really big going down, or they can get a one-hour special out of months and months of footage. (Referring to television media here… Print and digital news tends to cover far more.) I know that there will be a backlash against French Muslims in the wake of this attack, just as there was (and still is) one against American Muslims post-9/11.
More than anything, I know we live in a messed up world, and it’s going to be very, very difficult to change that.
I’ve seen some of my friends and other acquaintances rail against “attention policing” in the aftermath of tragedies, and then there’s this weird moral soapbox some people love to jump on in times like these. Eventually, though, those conversations and shouting-matches come to a close, and we start to talk about other things. We start doing other things. We let the distance sink in. We often do that because we have to, because carrying something like this with us for the rest of our lives will take its toll. We may never really forget about it, but when we’re lucky enough to have that distance, when we’re fortunate enough to not be forced to face that source of pain every single day, we move on. I myself will do it. I have obligations to fill and projects to work on, and I will turn to those things and more.
While moving on is not inherently a bad thing, I’ve also been on the other side of the fence, and had the experience of meeting others that have more distance than I do. I’ve met people younger than me that don’t really think of 9/11 as anything other than a date on the calendar, and I can’t help but wonder if the same will happen in France a decade or so down the line. It’s happened for me, too. Past wars were just dates to be remembered for school tests, sterile things robbed of their emotional histories because they were reduced to flat words in a textbook that demanded to be memorized and then forgotten to make room for something else. There are dates on my calendar that are just Mondays and Thursdays for me. For someone else, they’re horrible anniversaries. And for others still, they’re all just one more day that might not be seen.
My intent here is not to police anyone, to tell anyone how and why they should or should not grieve, where they should turn their attention today or tomorrow or the day after. We all have our reasons for doing what we do, and things will never resonate in identical ways with two different people. That’s one of the beautiful things about being human.
But one of the terrible things about being human is our tendency to be afraid of what we don’t understand. It’s a natural instinct, but it all too often takes root in us and festers until it explodes out of us in something violent. It’s natural to be afraid in the wake of what happened yesterday in Paris. For many Americans and others around the world, it cut very close to home. It’s natural to be afraid in the wake of everything else that has happened and is still happening around the world. It’s a sign that we’re not yet numb. But the only thing I’d really hope would come out of these fears is a willingness to remember what happened, and teach ourselves and those around us that fighting back with hate just breeds more hate, and then we get caught in this vicious cycle with a very, very slim chance of escape.
It’s hard to say that and not sound preachy. It’s hard to say anything right now and not jump up on that moral soapbox. But I need to say that when the emotional history gets lost, that’s when we lose the most. That’s when we start to think that we know more or even better than those of the past, and that leads mistakes being repeated. We can’t look at our world like it functions in a cold, clinical way fueled by logic. And yet, that’s what we do. Even when we acknowledge that there are strong emotion at play, we write it off as “That’s just the way those people are!” as if human beings can be simplified down to this easily digestible formula that doesn’t need attention beyond the surface level. We can’t just write off the humanity of others.
We have to do better than that. We have to. And no matter where you want to direct your attention today, it’s as good a time as any to start.