It was a crisp, sunny blue-sky day in northern California. We’d spent the entire morning planning a three-week trip to France with friends for 2017. Emails flew back and forth between us, our friends who would be with us and our travel agent: When should we go? When would the spring flowers at Giverny be in bloom? Should we spend five or seven days in Paris? What about the Champagne region? Where should we stay? Our friends sent us the link to a Parisian hotel they love. I’ve been to Paris and France many times before, but this time would be different. More fun, even.
Around noon I stopped planning and headed out for lunch with the daughter of a close friend, a young woman I’d known since she was a girl. Now, she was a working mother. It had been a couple months since we’d lunched, so over Vietnamese food, we caught up on our lives. It took almost two hours.
Back at home, I burst into the kitchen, fed and ready to do some chores. Michael was on the family room sectional. He was ashen.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“It’s not good,” he said, pointing to the screen, where news of the massacre in Paris filled the screen.
I sank into a chair and stared at the television.
Egypt had been on our travel schedule a few years back. Plans were made, we were ready to go, and then, Arab Spring. Our plans were cancelled. That was five years ago and we’re still waiting to feel safe enough to visit Egypt.
The France trip was 18 months in the future, but we knew nothing would be different in 18 months. The lightning bolt that was Sept. 11, 2001 changed our world for good, and every year the world gets a little smaller, a little narrower. The City of Lights had just become a risky proposition.
Or rather, it was always a risky proposition. Last week, though, we got hold of just how risky.
But so are other European cities we’d been planning to visit again. Vienna. Budapest, Prague. Rome. London. There are few safe places remaining, we realized, with sinking hearts.
“We are not afraid!” people exclaim, insisting on keeping their travel plans to “risky” areas. “Risky.” Now, most places outside of the U.S. and many inside of the U.S. were risky. Terrorists were unlikely to hit Santa Fe, or Sedona but they could hit New York, Chicago, Las Vegas or, closer to home, San Francisco, a place we frequent.
“We are not afraid.”
I don’t believe it. I, for one, am afraid. I think of those poor people in the theatre, executed horrifically, and I am afraid.
“If you change your plans, the terrorists win.”
Who are we kidding? Just look at the body count. Bombed, beheaded, shot, stabbed. The terrorists have already won.
“Blast them off the face of the earth,” some insist. “They are like mad dogs. I wouldn’t shoot a dog, but if one were mad and it was me or him? I’d shoot. That’s how I feel about these terrorists. They’re mad dogs.”
I am a pacifist and yet I see the point.
“If we respond with violence, what does it say about us?” a friend asks.
It says we’re afraid. It says we recognize that evil lurks everywhere and we want to eradicate it. It says we do not want to be martyrs.
At the same time, I can’t help but think of the game Whack-a-Mole, where as each mole is slapped down another pops up. I don’t think there’s a way to wipe these terrorists off the face of the earth. People will always become radicalized for perverted religious reasons and find a way to make a statement by killing.
Intelligence and counter-intelligence. Better monitoring of known terrorists. Blah blah blah.
Here’s what terrorists know and we are just getting hold of: it is impossible to monitor every single person who might become radicalized. There is no real way to stop these crazy people because, like Whack-a-Mole, get one and another pops up, ad infinitum.
I make my way to my home office, where the Paris hotel I’d been looking at before lunch is on my screen, shining bright, golden, beautiful.
Would I ever see it?
Where would we go instead? Some small town in Nebraska?
Each atrocity narrows our world, the one we thought was safe.
Staring at the photographs of beautiful young people, executed in the prime of their lives, I can’t pretend to be above it all. I can’t insist on pretending the world is safe or that I am brave.