Empathy towards the victims last night. #paris

I apologize for the quality of the picture. I only took it with my smart phone, which is not the best for shots at night. Had I known I was going to want to take pictures tonight I would have taken a better camera. The bridge pictured connects Portsmouth, NH (on the left of the picture) to Kittery, Maine via Badger’s Island (off to the right). The Memorial Bridge, as it is commonly known, has various colored lights illuminating it at night. It usually has either one steady color for the whole night or is constantly changing. In the latter case, it only shows one color at a time.

Tonight, a night after the attacks in Paris, the bridge is shown in blue and red. It can only manage two colors at a time, so it can’t give a true representation of the French flag. Periodically, however, all the lights turn to white and flash for about ten seconds or so before turning back to blue and red. The two colors are swapped every once in a while, so it can be seen as a tribute from either side.

As an American, I suppose it’s natural for me to draw comparisons to my experience during 9/11. I’m not the first nor would I be the last. I can notice a distinct difference between my emotional response to either tragedy. During 9/11 I felt more fear while last night I felt a great sadness and empathy towards the victims in Paris. I’ve been trying to figure out why that is. Feeling fear during 9/11 is understandable; not only did we not know what was going to happen next, I’m only a few hours drive away. There is a naval shipyard nearby, as well as an Air Force base. Not knowing where another plane might hit, nor if some country had declared war on us, I got scared and wanted to flee.

But I didn’t feel much empathy for the victims or their families at the time. One might chalk that up to me being younger and not as emotionally mature at the time. Now that I’m older I’m more world-weary, and dare I say it, more developed emotionally. But it could also be that the fear suppressed or even killed other emotions back in 2001, and because I’m so geographically removed, I didn’t have the flight-or-fight response. I am a bit apprehensive about what’s going to happen in the next few months on the world stage, but I somehow doubt it would affect my life personally enough that I have that cold, paralyzing fear that my own life might be in danger. That may be a selfish response, but there you have it.

I had errands to run after work last night. I wandered around the mall in a daze, constantly checking Twitter on my phone for news updates. It became hard to tell what was true and what wasn’t (the death toll kept fluctuating, and I remember at least one report saying that a Parisian mall also got shot up, which I haven’t heard about since). But what normally is a relaxing Friday-night ritual of window-shopping became clouded in a haze. I couldn’t focus on what I was doing. I kept looking around me at all of the people walking around, going about their daily lives as if they didn’t have a care in the world. I suppose they didn’t, and I shouldn’t blame them. I did wonder how many people knew what was going on.

Then again, how is that any different from the fact that I was spending so much time thinking about Paris when there were also attacks in Beirut and Baghdad yesterday? Granted, I didn’t find out about those until after I had already drained my emotions. I turned from empathy to sympathy, which, while still in a way an attempt to show respect, didn’t have the same effect on me. I want to think that it wasn’t a matter of looking at those from Lebanon and Iraq as the “other” while France, a western country, was one of “us.” I don’t want to think that, but that’s something I need to mull over further.

I’m not going to join the legion of people responding to the attacks themselves. There are too many people who shouldn’t respond doing so. I may react to some particularly offensive or at least humorously bad response to what has happened, but I won’t claim to be one of the “experts” on the subject of terrorism. In other words, I’m going to let this blog progress as it normally would. But yesterday’s events have too much of an impact to ignore.



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