Last week while I sat in a chair at my dentist’s office, a very kind young woman stuck sharp things in my mouth and talked about her upcoming marriage. She was excited, somehow able to bounce on her feet and yet not poke holes in my mouth. “Ah, love,” I thought, and then, before she began spraying ice water on my poor teeth, I managed to ask her where the new couple was planning to go for their honeymoon.
“Paris,” she said.
Followed by silence. She turned off the machine, put down her instruments, crossed her arms, and looked down at the floor. She seemed at once defensive and thoughtful.
I myself have been thinking about what happened this past November 13th in Paris, and the over 130 folks who died while celebrating music, a soccer game, or a cup of tea in a corner café. The latest analysis of the event was that the terrorists intended to attack the very romance of Paris itself.
The soon-to-be-wed woman then said, “Yeah, well my family thinks that we are crazy, but I love that city, and, you know, we are all just going to have to learn how to live in this new world. I am not going to let them take my life away,” she concluded, and then she picked up her poking tools.
I thought for a while about who the “they” might be whom she felt were trying to take her life away. Surely the terrorists, but maybe, also the politicians who see Paris and the San Bernadino violence less as tragedies and more as opportunities to fly their particular hate and fear banners. Or maybe the “they” are the folks in her life who love her and fear for her. Or maybe she is just in love and being stubborn about traveling to Paris with the man who captured her heart.
I carried these thoughts with me throughout the rest of the day. The news continues to be filled with reactions to the horrors in Paris, and San Bernadino, then came the calls to ban all Syrians—even five year olds— from seeking safety in our land. The irony of a nation refusing refuge to families from the Middle East at the behest of self-proclaimed Christian politicians—in the midst of preparations to celebrate the birth of a family seeking refuge—was ignored. I was saddened, not for the first time, by how Christians so easily accommodate their faith to be shaped by fear.
Evening fell, and the homeowners who managed to save a little money switched on their holiday lights. Christmas, with its themes of wandering royalty, homeless mothers, hospitality and revelation, seems to begin earlier and earlier each year. Our community does this bit of festive work quite well. It is hard to find a block in our neighborhood without multiple houses lit up with those bright lights that celebrate joy and hope to reflect that once-upon-a-time a star coming to a standstill over a manger, a posada, an inn with some room (albeit in the back) for these middle-eastern refugees.
The celebration of human hope is ancient. It was surely part of the thoughts of those ancestors who long ago gathered around a fire both to warm themselves and to keep out the dark. Terror is nothing new, even if today it is more efficient, it still remains present—as it is our terror.
What can be different is our response to these forces of darkness. I, for one, do not think that all of us will surrender to fear. I do worry, though, that there are many of us who continue to give into the spiral of violence. Those who stand to profit from the brutality of this violence are many, and, if shutting off the light of hope puts coins in their pockets, or lifts their cause to new heights, then they will dedicate themselves to frightening us.
That, too, is a form of terrorism.