Like most of the world, I was stunned by the news coming out of Paris over the past twenty-four hours. I was so stunned I froze for a few hours from the writing that has occupied me over the past week. I meant to blog yesterday, but I couldn’t manage it once I started hearing about the attacks.
One part of me said: “Why do you care so much?”
“You don’t know these people. This is happening far away. Terrible things happen every day.”
High profile attacks like those in Paris are a reminder of the dark possibilities of our world. I can’t help but remember another time I felt a reminder like this. The attacks on September 11th, 2001 naturally came to mind, but not just because of the terrorism and the connections with fanaticism.
I remembered where I was over half my lifetime ago. I had just begun going to an alternative school where many of the more problematic students from the local systems ended up. Central Community School was split into just two classes, elementary school, and high school.
Despite being only eleven years old, I was assigned to the high school because of my good grades. This is not meant as a brag, not even a humble one, just a fact.
As I watched the news with a class of delinquent or dysfunctional students, all older than me, I couldn’t help but feel sadness at the knowledge that people were dying in those events. I don’t recall being afraid at that moment though I did fear of flying for a while after that.
One of the older students, a guy with a fluorescent green stone on his eyebrow ring named Tom, quoted a line from, I think, Cheech and Chong. I don’t remember the exact words, but it concluded with “Fuck the World, let’s all get high.”
That turned my sadness and horror into anger. I got into my first violent altercation in alternative school. I’m sorry to say, the first of many. It’s funny, by the end of that year, Tom and I became friends. But in the wider world, wars began as a result of the fear and pain caused by the 9/11 attacks.
By the time I returned to the mainstream school system, George W. Bush’s War on Terror had been going on for only a few years. Fast forward to the present where we continue to treat impoverished, angry people as if they are the only savages out there, when our War on Terror is still nowhere near resolution. It’s war without an end, war without victory conditions.
I’ve played wargames since before I went to alternative school. Even in the worst, most interminably long wargames there are ways to tally up points and declare a victor at the end. Those are games. In real life, there is no final measurement. No one is going to count the cost of a never-ending war and tell us we won.
Veteran’s day was just last week here in the states. I am grateful for the service of our troops, but I also wish the government would prioritize protecting both civilians and soldiers rather than igniting destruction in the name of vengeance. I can’t speak for the people of France or Syria, or really anyone but myself, but I can do my best to try to understand their pain.
Words from the Prayer of Saint Francis come to mind. Allow me to paraphrase for the present situation.
“May we not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love with all our beings.”
I will offer my paltry consolation to those in pain.
I will seek to understand your position, your troubles.
I will try to love each member of humanity, even when it is difficult.
Hope only fails if we give up.
Thanks for reading.