We haven’t gotten away together for a long time. Not the two of us any way. And this seemed like as good a time as any – a friends birthday, an historic resort, a few moments of calm before a whirlwind finish to the year. We drive out to the country together on Friday, spend two nights, she takes me to the airport on Sunday for a trip to London, Germany and, briefly, Paris.
It started as a celebration. Drinks among friends. More drinks. More. And the John’s head went down to his phone. You can always tell when someone is concentrating, really concentrating, on something. It’s a different posture than the casual Facebook glance. Intention reveals itself in the eyes, the way you hold your head.
“There was an attack in Paris.”
I won’t pretend to have some long, deep, abiding love of Paris. Truth be told, I’ve only been there for a few hours. And I won’t try to say my best friends are Parisians, though I do know a few people there and consider them friends. I won’t say the news stopped our party in its tracks. In fact, we kept moving forward – dinner, gambling, some more drinks.
But I will say my mind was never far from what was happening in France. It was more than just concern for a world event. It was different than that creeping sense of dread that I think a lot of Americans feel when we are reminded about the horrors of terrorism – that ‘what’s next’ sense of panic and anger as we wait, just wait for another shoe to drop.
It was deja vu.
Not for the horrific things that happened inside that night club, in those restaurants, around the city. I won’t pretend to convince you I understand those things. The deja vu was for the morning after, when the people not directly injured by the events are suddenly and deeply effected by the events. Emotionally. Mentally. Spiritually.
I was living near Washington DC on September 11, 2001, a recent college grad on his first job. I’ll tell you my story about that day later, maybe over a drink and we’ll talk about the work I got to experience. I had been excited to move close to DC. It was a place I had visited many times – class trips, family trips, etc… What I was reminded of yesterday was the feeling of how the familiar can turn menacing, how the places and people you are used to seeing every day can suddenly become question marks in your mind.
If I go to a concert, will it happen again?
If I go get gas, is there a guy in a trunk with a sniper rifle putting me in his sites?
If I open this envelope, is there something inside that will kill me?
Is this the day they come back? Is this the day they come for me?
We, as Americans, always say that giving in, that changing your routine in light of such atrocity is how ‘they’ win. To no longer fly after 9/11 is tantamount to surrender. To stay off the Tube in London is analog to defeat. To avoid the football stadium, the restaurant, the night club is an acknowledgment that you have been beaten. It’s how we are as Americans, how so many people seem to be. And there’s a certain logic to the Keep Calm and Carry On mentality that I believe and take comfort in.
But terror and being terrorized is not a binary equation; it is not a zero sum game. Terror, fear, these are not toggle switches. It is never heads we win, tails we lose. The lasting impact of terror lies not in the behaviors we carry on with or in the ones we leave behind, but in those moments of hesitation, those extra looks over your shoulder, the critical eye toward the man standing in line.
For the victims and their families, terror is sudden and final. It is indelible, a tattoo you neither ask for nor deny. But for the rest of us, the lasting effects of terror are not black and white. They are not diagnosed nor prescribed. For the rest of us, the impact is gray, a dimmer switch spectrum of confidence and fear, optimism and fear, momentum and regret.
Even in this place a world away from the violence of Paris I feel them now and know millions of others will too. I pray for the families of everyone touched by the violence – the victims and their families; friends and friends of friends; all of those left behind to try to pick up the pieces. I pray for the people of Paris who have demonstrated nothing but courage and for the people of the world who continue to show resolve.
And I pray for those like me and so many others who used to live so differently; who now will peek around the corners, will carry on with baited breath and hesitant eyes – who stood and stand tall in the face of unspeakable things knowing they must carry on.
I pray for Paris in its darkest days and for people, whose lives will now forever be a shifting shade of gray.