I have started new posts many times since the last one, and each time I’ve gotten distracted or had to leave for an appointment or started to stress about freelance work and abandoned my thoughts mid-stream. And then by the time I returned to them, new things had happened to me and to the world and whatever I’d written was rendered obsolete or seemed petty in light of, say, the most recent spate of shootings in this country or the news I’d just learned from a friend or the brilliant revelations I’d made that morning over coffee, while talking to the dog.
And now this … now this thing has happened that is an enormous game changer. Yes, the game was changed a long, long time ago, and massacres even bigger than what happened on Friday have taken place all over the world and have affected far more lives and cultures and countries than I’ve paid “enough” attention to. Right or wrong, Friday was different. For a great many reasons.
My friend Holly articulated it better than I will in this piece, and prior to her writing this she taught me the term “emotional proximity”. That’s at the heart of why what happened in Paris on Friday has affected so many of us so much more than what happens daily elsewhere.
A lot of people are criticizing the blue-white-and-redding of Facebook and the horror and shock that Americans are finally feeling. I’ve seen posts mocking the people who feel “entitled” to their emotions because they’ve been to Paris once or studied French in high school or whatever their perceived connection.
We are all entitled to our emotions, perhaps more than we are to anything else. They are organic. They are hard to fabricate. They do not translate directly into how we choose to respond or react, though they can.
If you’re reading this you probably know me and if you know me you probably know that I do have a connection to Paris; it’s a city I’ve spent a fair amount of time in over the years and one that I love deeply. I have friends and family there. I speak French. Am I claiming ownership over this tragedy, claiming to be more affected than people who’ve not been there? Of course not. The hierarchy of pain is fluid. But yes, I do know the neighborhood where some of this happened and it’s not far from our place and a family friend lives on the block those restaurants are on (and she frequents them; she was out of town) and I know someone who knows someone who was shot at the Bataclan and I love Paris and blah blah blah this is not my tragedy, it is all of ours.
I have never been to Lebanon. Some years ago I edited a novella that takes place in Beirut and I learned, then, that Beirut was once considered “the Paris of the Middle East” and that it is a beautiful, multi-cultural, and religiously diverse city. I know Lebanese people and I’ve eaten in Lebanese restaurants and this is the extent of my tangible connection to Beirut and Lebanon.
The tragedy there is no less tragic than the one in Paris, or the one in Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria or in Kenya or anywhere else in this beautiful, damaged world.
It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve visited a place or if we have at all; if we have context for it, if we romanticize or vilify it, we have a connection to it. If it affects lives, it affects us all, whether or not we have a visceral response.
Longwinded way of saying that whatever we are feeling about any of this is valid and don’t let Facebook monitors or righteous opiners belittle your emotions and expressions of grief and concern.
Vive la France. Vive le monde.