“Do not be afraid for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire , you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” (Isaiah 43: 1b-2 NIV)
There a few dates that go down in history that you can just speak aloud, and people automatically know what you’re talking about. In the United States we have December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. It seems like November 13, 2015 is now destined to join this list of infamous dates. For many, this will become a “what were you doing when you heard about this” moment.
And what can you really say about these attacks in Paris at this point? We live in a world of 24/7 information overload and social media platforms that let everyone instantly become experts on everything from counter-terrorism, to international policy, to comparative religions. It’s a kind of sickening verbal diarrhea that tends to even overshadow the tragic events that it seeks to elaborate on.
Still…people deal with tragedy in different ways. Many of us will seek solace in religion or spirituality. Others will gather and just TALK it out with other people. Others will lash out in fear and anger, seeking scapegoats instead of placing the blame where it actually belongs.
Some of those methods are healthier than others.
This kind of thing tests the limits of our thinking and our emotions as humans. Most of us can’t imagine being as angry or as deluded as the people who carry out these attacks must be. We don’t know whether to be sad, mad, caring, indignant, frightened, or all of those at the same time. I guess our humanity is kind of a curse in that regard sometimes.
But then, there’s something else. As I was listening to CNN news coverage outside the Bataclan theater in Paris last hour, all of the sudden the sound of bagpipes playing “Amazing Grace” filled the Paris night, and even the CNN reporters couldn’t help but take just a second and listen. It choked me up a bit. I don’t know if someone was actually playing the pipes or a recording, but that person’s humanity was a blessing.
And there are other blessings to be found in the midst of this as well. People who lived across the way from the Bataclan theater opened their apartment windows and took in people who were fleeing the scene from the roof of the theater. Security guards at the Stade de France prevented three suicide bombers from entering a building where 80,000 people, including the President of France, were watching a soccer match. Who knows how many lives they saved? Other people throughout the city opened up their homes to people who were stuck on the streets, giving them shelter. And of course we cannot forget the first responders: the police, the firefighters, and the medical personnel who are the first ones to deliberately place themselves into these dangerous situations in order to save lives.
I don’t pretend to know what the answers are. I don’t know how to stop this. I’m not sure we can, honestly. I’m sure the world’s response to this is going to be intense. These kind of attacks cannot be allowed to continue without some kind of coordinated response, and I’m not sure that a few drones and airstrikes are going to fix the problem. My prayer is that the leaders of our world have the wisdom to do this with the least possible loss of life, but it’s going to be tough.
So, that’s my thoughts, my way to talk it out I guess. My prayers are with the people of France, and all of those who have lost loved ones in this. Just as I’ve been sitting here typing they’ve announced that at least one American study abroad student has been killed. I also pray for those who have been injured that they may recover fully and be comforted in the difficult emotional journey ahead for them as well.
I would urge us all to take some time today and just stop. Turn off the phones, the tablets, the computers, the tvs, and be silent. Maybe light a candle and offer prayers for those in need. If religion isn’t your thing, maybe just take some time to ponder how you might feel if someone you knew was killed or injured, and think about what binds us all together as one fragile, but still determined people.