When 9/11 happened I was sitting at my kitchen table eating breakfast, my mom was in the living room. When the Boston Marathon bombing happened I had to run out of my Art History class early and all the way home. When Sandy Hook happened I was sitting on the couch with my roommate and I made her change the channel to the news station, we sat in terrified silence for at least an hour. When Charlie Hebdo happened I spent an entire day at work shaking so badly it was hard for me to type. I was on the phone with my mom when the November 13th, 2015 attacks in Paris happened.
I can hardly remember on a daily basis what I eat for breakfast, the way to get to stores I frequent, or which switch belongs to which light in my own apartment. But I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing during every one of these events. And the feeling? The feeling is easy to remember. Because it’s the same every time. It starts with a tingle of curiosity as you get the notice on your phone. And then you read the headline, it becomes frantic curiosity, and in the back of your mind you’re praying that it’s not as bad as it sounds. And as you read or watch or listen to the rest of the details your stomach drops, your vision gets blurry, and you’re not sure whether you want to scream or cry or turn it off and take a nap. You start shaking and your heart races. And not until the broadcast is done and another human being decides, no, you’ve seen enough for one day, do you turn away and do nothing but sit in solemn silence.
Nothing feels worth it after you sit there, trying to grasp at what you just saw. You could pour yourself a glass of wine to help calm your nerves, but the people there will be nervous for a long time to come. You could take a warm shower, but you have no blood, sweat, or tears to wash off your hands. You could take a nap, but the people there will probably not sleep for days. Everything you consider suddenly seems extravagant. Unnecessary. Entitled.
Because you’re alive and unharmed and there are people dying, getting killed, and for no reason other than being in the place someone else decided was going to be the wrong place at that time.
In the time following these events you can’t focus on anything. Eventually you force yourself to watch the gory broadcasts, look at the unfiltered photos, read the stories of the people who were there. It scares you to death, makes you sick even, but for some reason you have to do it; you feel like you have to do everything you can to feel their pain. Because weren’t you so lucky that you weren’t there? You might even think to yourself, this would be easier to handle if maybe I had been there, I wouldn’t feel so useless, so involuntarily entitled.
You rack your brain for ways to help. People start taking monetary donations, but you know that money isn’t going to make these people feel better. They witnessed death, the pinnacle of human cruelty, and they lost people they loved more than anything money can buy. So money isn’t going to help them. Is there anything that even would?
The answer is yes. Yes, there is.
We have a heart. That beats. It beats for those we love, those we’ve lost, and those whose lives have been torn away from us at the mercy of an unforgiving and cowardly presence. And no matter what the few try to prove to the masses, we are capable of strength, of empathy, and of love.
For the large majority of us, helping isn’t ever going to be about having money to donate, skills to lend, or physical resources to provide. It’s going to be about keeping our head up in a world trying to convince us to look down, being there to support each other through tragedy and loss, and not letting an evil and minuscule percentage of the population scare you into reclusiveness and silence. Channel your rage, your sorrow, and your empathy into something and whatever it is do it with all your heart, make it matter, and keep on doing it, because complacency and apathy are exactly what they need to thrive, and we can’t let them win.
They may have guns, power, and the senseless barbarity to commit acts of inhumane violence, but what we have, in the end, will always win. We have love and we have each other, and as long as we stand together they will not win.
Be strong, be brave, and be one.