Current affairs

Thoughts on Paris

Yesterday afternoon, I was sitting at the gym looking at my email and trying to get through my to-do list that consisted of paying bills and various other things when I saw a headline “above the fold” on Yahoo that there was an attack happening in Paris.

Given the news media’s tendency to exaggerate these things, I didn’t give it much of a thought until I started seeing numbers such as 18 killed. I asked the front desk to change the channel on the big TV to CNN, and watched along with everyone around the world as the numbers of dead greatly increased and the sophistication of the attacks began to be known. It took less than a nanosecond to realize this was a coordinated terrorist attack. We can spot these things now.

Amy and I happened to be emailing at the time and I asked her if she had seen the news. She told me of a conversation she was having with a co-worker in Paris. His child was currently trapped in a bar near one of the attack locations. They had apparently locked the bar so the gunmen couldn’t get in. Wow. Our conversation progressed to thinking about what if one of our children should ever be in this situation. Can you imagine? Now we have to imagine. And today, so many families aren’t just thinking about that possibility, they are living it.

I’m sitting here now (last night), the boys have been asleep for a while and Amy is in our bedroom sending out emails to colleagues in France who have been up all night. I want to write something. It’s cathartic. But what do you say?

I could say that it bothered me that no one in the gym stopped to take a look at the TV. It’s a well-trafficked area with a big banner on the screen that said “More than 100 Killed.” What were they doing that was so important that they couldn’t at least glance at what was happening?

I could say that I’m fascinated (not sure that’s the right word) by how quickly we fall into the same pattern when tragedies like this occur. Thoughts and prayers will be sent. Hashtags created. Facebook profile photos will be changed. There will be online mourning, online outrage and online stupidity.

Obama will get mad because he’s the most powerful man in the world but even he seems to feel helpless. Someone will say, “if only they had guns” (Newt Gingrich).  And many will use the attacks to promote anti-Muslim sentiment. Candidates will say Obama is weak and “they would do things differently.” Some companies will win (Facebook), others will say something stupid, an online hoax will occur…and within a few days, we’ll all go back to our lives if we haven’t already. Many of us won’t forget, however.


The thing is — send your thoughts and prayers, there isn’t anything else to send. Change your avatar, it doesn’t hurt anyone for others to know we care.

What bothers me, though, is how quickly this pattern emerges. Because we’re getting used to it. This shouldn’t be the new normal but our actions show that it is. We’re moving from terrorist attack (Egyptian plane) to terrorist attack (Beirut bombings) to terrorist attack (Paris). Next week there will be a school shooting (I sure hope not) or something similar and we’ll go through our motions again. We know the world we live in now.

I could say that Facebook showed some real value in their safety update tool. Imagine if that existed during Sept. 11. I was reading a story about the new tool when an alert flashed across my phone from one of my FB friends checking in safely. There are obvious holes in the tool, such as people checking in safe and then becoming unsafe, and people not checking their phones, but it’s still great that people can quickly check in with everyone they know quickly. I remember spending what seemed like an hour trying to reach my parents and tell them I was safe (I was in DC) on Sept. 11.

I could say that whatever we are trying to do globally to stop these attacks isn’t working. Perhaps it’s time to listen to some new ideas.

I could say that tonight when putting Alex to bed, he asked to read, “Horton Hears a Who” by Dr. Seuss. We’ve been reading it lately, but it’s usually my pick, never his. The book was written in 1954 and while I thought it was about the Holocaust or the civil rights movement, it is actually supposed to be an allegory of the United States’ occupation of Japan after we dropped the bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The main line in the book is “a person’s a person no matter how small” and the message of the book is one of equality.

I’ve read the book many times over the last few months, but this paragraph struck me differently last night:

And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!

The time for all Whos who have blood that is red

To come to the aid of their country!” he said.

“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!

So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Or, I could say that there’s nothing I can say, except this.



Image via: Jean Jullien




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