Like much of the world, I’ve been trying to process last week’s events in Paris. To be honest, I’ve also been trying to ignore them. The same way as I’ve been trying to ignore the outpouring of grief and outrage from Beirut, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan. I simply don’t have the heart to take on all that pain and loss. Perhaps that is selfish of me.
They say even years later, people remember exactly what they were doing when “X” event happened. I was working on an anthropology paper in my studio when my news feed lit up with reports of the Paris attacks. We have friends in Paris, this is the second time this year I’ve sent anxious queries about their well being. My kids and I spent a week in 2014 in the Republique district of Paris where much of the chaos took place. Somehow that makes it even more disturbing.
It’s only been the past few years that I’ve taken a more concerted interest in world events, politics, history. I’m not a political scientist or historian, but I know enough now to understand that as barbaric as terrorism is, there are complex root issues behind it. On Friday night I watched PBS’s documentary, ‘Losing Iraq’, which follows the growth of Isis. It helps me to understand the history of middle eastern conflict and to revisit the impact of our bungled western, imperialistic, capitalistic involvement there. I also read an excellent article on the Paris-Response-Retribution-Cycle. None of this of course, negates the loss and pain of those directly involved. But it’s important just the same, to examine world events through a sociological lens and ask “why?”
My son was working on a paper for his political science course this weekend. His class is analyzing Sartre’s play, Dirty Hands. Dirty Hands was written near the end of the second world war and examines whether it’s possible in politics and war, to emerge without dirty hands, no matter how idealistic the intent. We also talked about the Machiavellian question of whether the end justifies the means. The timing of this discussion almost seems ironic. Dirty hands, everywhere.
My generation of Canadians and our children haven’t directly experienced war, we live relatively free from that threat. I can’t imagine the terror I’d feel over one my kids being drafted or voluntarily signing up for the military. I’m not sure I could cope with it. There is nothing I value more than their lives. I also can’t imagine losing a child to join the fight for religious extremist ideals or as a casualty of a terrorist attack. My parent heart literally quivers and shrinks at the prospect. I want the world to be a safe, peaceful, predictable place but not have it cost anything. Perhaps that’s selfish of me also.
I feel pretty impotent in light of all this suffering and chaos. Besides exercising my right to vote, which I didn’t even do this year, my opinions and impact are negligible at best. I hope we keep our borders open to refugees fleeing from terrorism because they need help. I hope those inflicting acts of terror are stopped but I’d rather it came as a result of negotiation, not loss of lives. I hate that words like ‘neutralized’ are used in place of killed. For god’s sake, call it what it is. I wish we could all just play nice, understand, support each other and revel in the short, precious time we share on this breath-taking planet. On the other hand, if anyone threatened one of my own, I’d come out shooting like an Ozark Mountain hillbilly.
I have a friend who used to be museum curator in Ontario. She moved to Iraq several years ago to teach photography in schools and help kids with heart problems. This morning I came across a pic of her in a Libyan hospital holding a baby post surgery, wearing a hijab. She’s pretty much a rock star in my books. I sent her a quick note saying so and she replied, ‘You and I are more similar than you think. It’s only ever about loving the person in front of you.’ I was glad to hear that. Most of the time, it takes everything I’ve got just to handle the political, economic and religious diversities of my own home and head, let alone the world.
A great many people more eloquent than I have shared their insights online. I appreciate Anne Lamott’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s heartening reflections. Vox has a great short video info graphic called Syria’s War which visually illustrates some of the political factors in the middle east. My friend Scott explains the psychology behind ‘Why We Care More about Paris’.
As for me, I’m just trying to figure it all out. On Friday afternoon, saddened and conflicted after hearing the news, I stepped outside and clipped back the French lavender and oregano on my deck. In a moment of mindfulness, I cupped my hands over my face, drinking in the heady scent of the season’s last blooms. Then I came inside, listened to stories of my kid’s days, served up some chicken soup and hung a string of christmas lights. I’m not sure I can do much besides that.
Carl Jung tells us, “The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
I sure hope christmas lights count.