Thoughts on the Paris attacks.

I’ve been thinking about World Wars I and II today. I thought about the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Civil War…various American wars fought over time. Did people know when they started that this was global conflict? Was there a shift in the air, a sort of presence in time that told people, “Hey, pay attention: this is a big one?”

If that presence was around on September 11th, 2001, I don’t remember it, likely because I was too small to really conceptualize global consequences of people’s actions. I remember riding in the car on the way to school, my mother running slightly behind to drop me off. Steve Shannon, a local radio DJ, made the announcement just as we were pulling up to my middle school. I remember fearing passenger planes raining from the sky, and even though I even processed at that age how irrational the thought was, I wondered if a plane would crash into our school. Irrational as it was, a part of me couldn’t shake it.

Here’s a text I got today:

…I’ve been standing by my door telling myself that I need to go get groceries for 10 minutes, lol. Now I’m wishing you were back in whatever city you did your first install in – I guess you always expect us to worry about you whenever there’s bad news.

I know how I was supposed to respond: “Hey, don’t worry, everything’s going to be fine. This is a terrible situation, but they’re going to find the people that did this and bring them to justice. In the meantime, don’t worry about me out here; I know I’m far away, but I’m safe. It’ll all be OK.”  Something to that extent. But I couldn’t help but feel like Middle School Josh today.

Another message I got today, after calling the day a “terrible situation:”

Yes it is. We know how they feel. 😦

For some reason, this stuck out to me, felt…shocking. And yes, I can still say this after telling my “I feel like I did during 9/11” story. The lens I look at yesterday through, not even 24 hours removed from the event, says I can’t assume the Parisians feelings, can’t pretend to know any feelings anyone truly has other than “scared.” “Angry,” I imagine, is also a common one. “Sad” seems to not quite measure up; perhaps “devastated” or “distraught.” “Depressed” certainly goes on my list. Still, those words are just words; they all feel lacking to an extent.

All day, I’ve struggled to attach words to this event. I was tempted to break my writing streak partly because of it, and I feel like I’ve been running away from my keyboard ever since I first got the news. 6 attacks, with 153 dead as of this writing. I just…don’t really know what to say. But I had to write here to convince myself that it’s OK to not know what to say, or do for that matter. It’s OK to just feel for a moment.

I keep feeling like I need to do something, but I don’t know what. I don’t know that I could do anything even if I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And that’s what’s shaken me up so much: this feeling of helplessness. If someone were to race down the street with assault rifles firing, I’m pretty much helpless. If I sit down to coffee and someone busts in to hold the place up, I’m helpless. Hell, if “The Big One” happens, the earthquake that’ll supposedly change the entire Pacific Northwest, I’m helpless. We’re helpless against multiple forces every day, and I feel like I certain amount of comfort comes directly from ignoring that concept regularly. When something like this happens, it’s hard to ignore that feeling anymore.

My suggestions for those who feel the same way I do: keep an eye out for ways people in Paris will receive aid and contribute your money/time if you can. Call your loved ones. Buy someone flowers. Sit and simply think, experience. Pray, meditate, contemplate for Paris. Pray, meditate, contemplate on the the welfare of the countless innocent lives that were directly affected and will be affected by this conflict. Volunteer for people in your community. Feel anger, feel sadness, but don’t let your feelings take control of your actions.

When the violent want to push the world into senseless chaos, we have to push ourselves to counter it, to create meaning and show love to prevail over the hate.


Featured image by Jean Jullien.


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