Thoughts About Paris, and Elsewhere — A Freewrite

Hi, guys; sorry for the delay. I was sick this past week, and then I’m afraid after the international events of the weekend I really just didn’t feel like chatting about peg dolls or nightstands or outfit templates at all. I have (of course) some thoughts about the attacks of the last few days. And one from a good while before that. I often process my feelings best by writing about them (surprised?) so I thought I’d share a bit.

I turned twelve a month before Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh bombed Oklahoma City’s Federal Building. I didn’t know what happened until I got home; kids at school had said something about a bomb somewhere, but they talked about bombs and guns and machismo all the time anyway, so that was hardly unusual. I found out that evening, sitting between my parents in our dark living room, watching dusty, heartbroken people on the screen with the awful half-building looming behind them.

It was so … real. This didn’t happen in America — did it? It had now.

I think that was my moment — the moment I realized how real other peoples’ pain was. As real as my own. I knew everyone had feelings before then, of course, everyone mattered, but … I really hadn’t yet gotten a handle on the sameness. The oneness. That I was part of we all.

I realized it then. Whether here or in countries I couldn’t yet pronounce, whether they looked like me or not at all, whether our beliefs were anything alike … when strangers hurt, they hurt like I did. There were people I would never meet, who lived in places I would never see, who were just as scared, right then, as I was. Who were just as grateful that their parents were with them instead of being pulled in pieces from under broken concrete.

The Murrah Building Bombing wasn’t the only terrorist attack that year; far from it. There were twenty-five others around the world, in Sri Lanka, Russia, Algeria, and elsewhere. Pakistan. India saw FIVE bombings that year.

But the one close to home was the one that made me ask, for the first time, where does this come from? Why had it happened? And — what on earth can I do? Rather than just grimacing — how awful! — and forgetting about it.

None of us begin our lives knowing that we are part of “everybody.”

That however much we differ, we have still more in common; that we are made of the same matter as every other human on (or off) the planet. And their experiences are as real, and matter as much, as our own.

And that we’re all in this together, like it or (apparently more often) not.

Sometimes we realized this so undramatically, or so long ago, that it FEELS like we’ve known it forever — but we really haven’t. Sometimes it changes us so dramatically that we forget — or try to — what we were like before.

And even when the idea of our connection with the rest of humanity has been seamlessly incorporated into our worldview for, like, ever, there is still more to learn — or unlearn, often quite uncomfortably. More internalized prejudices, more unexamined assumptions that we weren’t aware of or remotely prepared to wrangle. Layer after discouraging layer of them.

Recognizing our commonality with others is the beginning of that pursuit — not its end, by a long shot. And yeah, sometimes, that beginning is made when something truly awful happens too nearby to shove it to the backs of our minds.

I bet a lot of people are having that moment this weekend, following the attacks in Paris. Some may be asking, what else am I missing? What on earth can I do? Why does this happen?

If your moment was a while ago, it’s easy to feel impatient. “Yes, yes — but there’s so much else you really ought to be upset about! Look now, look closely at all these other tragedies! The ones you didn’t care about yesterday!” It’s easy to try to rush other people through it, because we need all hands on deck if we’re going to do anything about any of it.

And … of course we do need all hands on deck. (Okay, honestly, I’m not even sure we have the deck yet, metaphorically speaking. But once we have it, we’ll need everybody.) The world desperately needs as many empathetic, self-aware people as it can get. It needs people who recognize the humanity of others and are willing to work with, and learn from, and help each other. People who can look now, and look closely, at the tragedies that don’t get much airtime. And at why that is — including examining the systems of marginalization and oppression with which they are, or have been, complicit.

I’m pretty sure it’s our only way out of this hateful mess.

But we’re not going to get there like this — wasting this moment on shouting in each other’s faces that we’re not caring right.

Please. There’s plenty of grief and outrage to go around. Believe me.

Grieving for the casualties in Paris does not dismiss those in Cameroon, or the West Bank. Or Nigeria. Or any of the thirty-two other nations who’ve suffered terrorist attacks so far this year.

It seems to me that respecting each others’ grief makes us all stronger; policing or exploiting it only makes us weaker. Respecting someone’s grief gives them the space and safety to learn, to listen, to think new thoughts. To grow from there. Telling someone they’re grieving wrong takes all that safety away. So no learning. No listening. No new thoughts. Just defensive indignation.

Which is not to say we should simply “calm down” — about any of it. It’s okay to be outraged. It’s right to be mad — for instance — that someone whose moment happened today didn’t even see the tragedies yesterday. Because it doesn’t have to be that way.

Attacks in Africa or the Middle East are reported by much of the news media (of whatever stripe) and responded to (if at all) by the general public vastly differently than those in Europe or North America. They are. Undeniably. The reasons for that, at least the ones I know and suspect, are appalling … and addressable. The reasons that so many people never have their moment, or who only have it after so much of their life has past, are distressing … and addressable. And on and on.

But to address them, rather more of us have to be willing to give our assumptions a rest and really find the real answers to the question, what are all the causes? How do they work — and what can we do about it?

And for that to happen, more of us have to have that moment. So let’s not shout people down or turn them away because we got there first. Please?

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