Reconsidering options in a world under attack

November 16, 2015

terroristsIt 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.

terrorists“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.

It’s not.

I’m not.

38 comments on “Reconsidering options in a world under attack
  1. I feel like I have PTSD from living so close to NYC. That day I knew so many people working in or around the WTC, and my brother was in Manhattan that day. It was a nightmare and I’m still shaking from it.

    We think we can’t give in to terror, that life must go on. I remember when I spent the summer in Israel when I was 14 and we were accompanied by a medic and a soldier while visiting the Golan Heights. What a world. I don’t have any answers, just more questions.

  2. While I can completely understand how you could feel. I grew up with terrorism all around. My family in the U.S. didn’t grasp what I was growing up with. And yet … life did go on. It had to.

  3. T.O. Weller says:

    For me, violent events speak to the fragility of life. No matter how big or small they are, it’s a reminder of how quickly life can shift, how fast we can experience pain and loss … and often when we least expect it.

    Should we run and hide? Should we arm ourselves? Instinctively, we say a resounding “yes”. But I wonder if that’s really the right course of action. Fear breeds fear as much as violence breeds violence. I challenge myself this way every day; let’s face it, by the time we are of a ‘certain age’, we’ve seen and experienced a lot and can therefore fear that much more. In the end, it does become a personal decision, but I wonder …

    And then there’s our desire for retaliation. Even when one person hurts me, I want to retaliate. (I don’t, but the little child in me does want to strike out on occasion.) How much more are we driven to strike out when so many innocent people are struck down? But again, we need to step back and question. Like your wack-a-mole analogy, it’s just as Einstein said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

    Has retaliation changed things so far? No, in fact it has fueled the cause of radicals who want nothing more than to point and say, “See, look at how they want to destroy us. Come fight along side us to stop them!”

    I read a thought-provoking article yesterday about this very thing, and I believe more ideas like this need to be shared and discussed. Maybe we should stop “doing the same thing over and over again”? (

  4. I had a similar experience this weekend as we are planning a river cruise for next fall in either Portugal or Germany. Part of me wants to just stay home, but my very wise husband has convinced me that this will fix nothing. Although, who knows what will happen between now and next October.

  5. It is awful and people should be very afraid even in small town Nebraska. In today’s world the terrorists can be your next door neighbor. It is a scary world and I don’t have the answers, but I am afraid. Now because of this bombing countries are slamming their doors to the refugees. It’s so sad. Someone wrote, “it’s like blaming the escaping Jews for Hitler”. It’s a sad, sorry mess.

  6. Beth says:

    I appreciate fear and understand how easy it is for others’ actions to instill it in our hearts and minds, as well as our bodies as is expressed by “fight or flight” behavior or anxiety. If we behave like this world is a terrifying place where awful things happen everywhere all the time, we will never live.

    I have not planned a trip to France, however, I have traveled to places that aren’t that safe. My adult children live in NYC and may be vulnerable, but with millions of people there…are they personally really vulnerable?

    If you don’t go to France, you will never have been there in your life. So then, why is life worth living if you don’t live it? The world has always been a dangerous place. We are just more connected now. Imagine if there were smartphones and facebook during the time of the Crusades or the Inquisition, or WWI, the Korean War? WWII?

    Life has to go on. Living has to be done. You can’t move through the darkness without a little light.

    Plan your trip. And just like you plan with flight insurance, or having a pet sitter at home, give extra attention to knowing what to do in case of an emergency. (I would always have done this anyway, you can’t be in a foreign country with open borders without having this knowledge!)

    Make sure your families stateside know where you are staying, plan ways to communicate with one another to assure others you are safe. Research ways to find shelter and to appropriate travel back to the States. If you have children, keep them comfortably close, have identification and contact information ON THEM at all times. And be sure to have your affairs back home in order.

    But most of all, go, let yourself enjoy your time there. Be observant, but don’t continually look over your shoulder (you will miss the amazing things in front of you!). Be prepared and you can make it happen!

    I apply these tasks to my daily life. It helps me live. If I am dead, I won’t care. If my affairs are tended to in my absence, that gives me peace of mind while I’m alive so I can enjoy my everyday no matter where I am and what I’m doing. I hope this perspective helps a bit.

    ENJOY LIFE…Wishing you peace of mind and safe travels.

  7. Estelle says:

    I hate to say it but I don’t think France or anywhere in Europe is safe to travel to at these times. I think that because the borders are so close, terrorists already are intermingled within. I’m so sorry that our world is contracting. We need to empower moderates to keep the radicals at bay. I shared an article about how to do it (not written by me) on my FB page.

  8. pia says:

    I did live in Manhattan then. I wasn’t scared—then or after. Couldn’t be. This weekend however….
    My niece spent her junior semester abroad in Paris. Now she’s a senior at Barnard. Sweetest, most responsible, beautiful young woman.
    Fell in love. He just came. She just bought her ticket to go over Christmas. First time she actually paid for something with her own money. Her parents are a wreck. She’s 21 (just) and legally they have no say. But they can refuse to pay for her final semester though….
    I have to admit I’m as much a wreck as her parents. Plus PTSD’d.

  9. I think you hit the proverbial nail on the head with “we recognize evil”. Yes it seems emotional and fool hardy to give in to our natural response to fight back, but sometimes I believe you have to fight. It feels counterintuitive considering our national desire to stay above the fray. I’m fed-up as well.

  10. I grew up in Paris and am broken-hearted. This just strikes too close to home for me. Thankfully, our friends are all ok but so many families are grieving. What will be next? Hard to quell the fear.

  11. Haralee says:

    It is devastating. The new twist is the small venue and other spots. So what city is safe? It is terror. That said I would still plan your trip. In 18 months you could be come ill or get hit by a bus. I hope not! Life can be random.

  12. Mary says:

    I spent a lot of time in Paris, in my single days. I hoped my children would have that same experience before they settled down. Sadly, I don’t think that is possible any longer, just to travel without a care in the world!

  13. Kimberly says:

    I have no answers at this point, only questions. We each will need to decide how to live with the new reality. The answer won’t be easy.
    Kimberly XO

  14. Laurel Regan says:

    I hear you. This world is a frightening place these days.

  15. Bouncin Barb says:

    Our government needs to think differently than it did decades ago. Our society has changed and terrorism is real and isn’t going to just disappear. I don’t think we can stop it completely but we have to try or else we are all sitting ducks to these hatemongers. I’m scared too. Good post!

  16. Think of how many times you’ve been to NYC since 9/11. Yes, it is so scary to venture out in these crazy days, but as cliche as it sounds, if we don’t the terrorists win. Fact. The alternative is to become a hermit and that is something I will never do. I don’t think you will either.

  17. I surely don’t have any answers, but just wanted to acknowledge your eloquent and honest discussion of all the questions that this latest round of violence raises. I admire your fortitude in booking the trip.

  18. Helene Cohen Bludman says:

    Your whack-a-mole comparison is sadly right on, Carol. The terrorists are everywhere now. I don’t know what will become of our world.

  19. Yes and Yes again. Your last words echo in my head.

  20. It is so scary out there, especially for those of us who love to travel and who have viewed the world as our playground. Now, it’s hard to want to get out from under the covers.

  21. You are so right. Our world is shrinking. We put off all of our overseas travel plans for the immediate future, maybe forever. There are states I haven’t seen yet and I have never been to Canada so we will be sticking closer to home.
    I had too many friends in or on their way to France that day, it was so frightening.

  22. Carolann says:

    You are so right. It’s not safe…and I’m not brave enough to test that theory either when it comes to traveling. The pain runs so deep from the state of things. I guess it true that we can’t stop living…they win then. That much I know is true. So on with the travels, shopping in malls, and eating in an outside cafe – that much I can do.

  23. roz warren says:

    I’ve visited Nebraska and it’s actually very nice. But it’s not Paris. I’m not brave either. Terrific essay and I agree with you. I lived in Paris once for close to a year and it’s a city I love, but I’m not willing to risk my life to return any time soon.

  24. All our plans of another family trip to Europe changed in an instant. We had all been talking about returning when Cait graduated. A last big family trip, we said, knowing that everything would change once she started working. Everything has already changed.

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