This attack in Paris–it breaks my heart. As the stories kept scrolling in my news feed last night, I would click and read. I watched a video of people singing the French anthem as they evacuated a sports stadium. The images, the pictures, they kept rolling in, as more and more reports surfaced. People began to respond to the tragedy in their news feeds. I saw posts that were fearful, posts that were hopeful. There were responses as people shared information about how to find housing, how to find safety, in the chaos of an attack.
Today, Facebook rolled out their new “change your profile to stand in solidarity” app, and my heart was saddened. I love that people want to reach out and connect with the tragedy that’s unfolded. And, people die in terrorist attacks every.single.day. More importantly though, I think that changing our profile pictures—whether to stand with Paris or to celebrate DOMA passing, or other similar things, creates a fake sense of activism. Changing a profile picture allows us to feel connected, to feel like we’re taking a stand. But there’s very low risk and very low actual investment involved. (I do get that there is some risk—if I change my profile to a rainbow color and out myself, people might know that I believe that it’s okay for gay people to marry—and more than okay, I celebrate it)
There’s a special ring in hell reserved for people who use tragedies to put forward their political ideologies, so I won’t do that here; nor will I point to the left or the right and speak to their failings.
What I am curious about though, is how can we as a people, how can I as an individual, carry forward and create lasting meaningful change? For me, the power of that lies in story. I believe that stories connect us. Stories help us see that there is someone out there, that isn’t us, who has something in common with us. Stories remind me that the world is bigger than my little corner of it.
When I hear someone talk about their hopes, their dreams, their desires, that person becomes known to me. I know a little bit about them. I’m able to see where and how we are the same, not different. The ways that we carry the same hopes, the same desires, the same loves. In one moment, it’s both unitive—we’re one—and particular—there’s me and there’s the other person who is also me, with the individual story.
Those people who died in the attacks in Paris. They each had a story. Or several. Relationships, failures, joys. Around the world there are wars going on all the time. People live in war zones. This is so far removed from my experienced reality. There’s no way I can grasp that. But I can seek out the people that seem “other” to me, here, today, and ask them a bit about their story. I can try to close the gap and listen.
I can’t relieve the suffering others experience. But by listening to their stories, by walking with them, that is the deepest honoring of their lived stories that I can do. I can acknowledge it and not wipe it away with a platitude. I can look at ways to change how I show up in the world. Those little actions, all throughout the world, they’ll create transformation. And maybe, transformation by transformation, the world will come around. And we won’t watch news reel after news reel of tragedy.
Go read their stories, here.