As Terrorism Terrorizes, What Can I Do?
Every time I strip down going through airport security, I’m reminded that terrorism isn’t far away. Hearing about a Russian airliner being downed by a bomb, the Beirut suicide bombing, and the Paris terrorist attacks taking place in quick succession, shakes me to my knees. The trauma, lived over and over again, is a realization that terrorism is sitting next to me while I write this article. More accurately, terrorism has infiltrated my skin wreaking havoc on my insides: raging anger, reactive fear and a devastated heart. How can this keep happening? What can I do?
Perhaps I’m feeling more jolted by the Paris attacks because I was there a few weeks ago. I lived in France for eight years and returned to get my French divorce. Mission accomplished. My boyfriend and I ended the trip with four days in Paris. As information about the attacks unfolded, I quickly posted a message to Facebook expressing solidarity with my French friends. Within 24 hours, this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote showed up on my feed:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
I pushed the button to share it on my newsfeed and something stopped me. Would that quote provide comfort in the midst of the chaos? I was feeling hate and I wanted to stay in the hate. I did not want to feel love or forgive the insane, backward, cruel terrorists. In the heat of the moment, would it be insensitive to suggest to my French friends that love could be the solution? As days passed and we started to learn what happened, and the litany of opinions spewed from the media, feelings of helplessness were added to the mix.
How can this keep happening? What can I do?
Solving the problem of ISIS is beyond my knowledge and abilities, yet solution based thinking is an automatic human response. How can we beat this evil force? The temptation is to give in to overwhelm and numb out. If denial kicks in, I could bypass the painful emotions and get back to doing what I know I can do – my “to do” list. My higher self knows that numbing out is not the answer.
I’ve been writing this article a little bit everyday for a week – digesting what happened in Paris, absorbing another attack in Mali, following the news in small doses and checking in with my emotions along the way. My heart is still devastated; I feel fear for me and for everyone and the more I learn about ISIS, the more I hate them. Honestly, it feels dark and gloomy and hopeless and I want to hide. But cocooning in a contracted sack of fear and hate erodes the soul. If our souls erode, will ISIS win?
The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. are prophetic. He lived in the midst of oppression and violence. He found a way to cultivate hope and move forward, taking millions of people with him. Transforming fear and hate with love is a practice; it rarely takes place in the blink of an eye. Love is the medicine that keeps our hearts open, engaged and alive. Love gives us resilience in the face of utter brutality yet it seems out of reach in the heat of the moment.
Here’s what I am doing to keep my heart alive and open. The Washington Post put together a page called, “Remembering the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris,” where they have assembled the names of the victims, photos if available, a few words about their lives and the location where they were killed. I sit at my computer and commune with those we lost. I look into the bright eyes of a 23 year old and see her life ahead of her. I fully feel the sadness. I tell her how sad I am that her physical life ended in such a horrible way. That it wasn’t fair and she will be missed. I see the web of family, friends, colleagues and Parisians grieving and trying to take it all in. And then I move on to the next one.
This is a sacred space and a sacred practice where the terrorists are not welcome. It’s a place where my heart is not corrupted. As those beautiful souls are transitioning to the other side, sending love and compassion is essential. Projecting more fear would not be helpful. My guess is that countless numbers of people on this planet are naturally doing a similar practice.
It’s been 10 days since the attacks, and we’re starting to hear stories of bravery and sacrifice; stories of heroic human beings who automatically put themselves at risk to save another. Celine Dion performed a stirring rendition of Edith Piafs’ song “Hymne A L’Amour” as a tribute to Paris at the American Music Awards (watch it here).
In the wake of terrorism, we witness and celebrate our human resilience. And it is our resilience and ability to embody higher values like love, peace and tolerance that will win the war.
In this season of Thanksgiving, I am grateful for the world leaders and studied people all over the globe who are trying to solve the problem of ISIS. My heart remains open and alive for all the displaced refugees who are trying to survive. I am forever grateful for leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. who graced us with the wisdom we need to put one foot in front of the other and continue our movement forward.
When terrorism terrorizes, remember our resilience. Remember that only light can drive out darkness and only love can drive out hate.
(p.s. The word “terrorizes” with an “s” on the end does not exist in the dictionary. It seems to fit.)