Chaos brings people together. In George Orwell’s 1984 “war is peace,” my High School English teacher related it to a post 9/11 world. What happened after 9/11? People banded together, flags were flown, and civilians became heroes. For a while, we were united as a nation, flags flying and all. People were proud to be American, but that’s what it took for people to be proud, thousands of people dying. It’s the same thing in Paris, why does it take a state of emergency to talk about the severity of impending violence? Why does it take a rising death count? Why does it take a chaotic, unpredictable, horrific event for us to admit we don’t carry the biggest stick anymore?
On Friday, November 13th I took my sister to see My All American (a true and inspiring story) and I don’t know if it was actually the movie or if it was just everything that was going on in the world, but I wept. I actually shook as chills moved through my body and tears flowed down my face. I am not a sap. I’m messy on the inside, I’m full of doubt, I can’t trust hardly anyone, and I lack motivation, but on the outside I’m emotionally sound.
The story is incredible; really for the first time in my life I saw the meaning behind sports. Football provides solidarity for families and friends and neighbors. We gather to watch games almost religiously; we feed off the entertainment and the thrill of large men tackling one another. We bet, we wear jerseys, we cheer on our team and we genuinely hope they win. Sometimes we’re conflicted, our blended football families argue and joke as they are pitted against one another each week. Football brings people together, it’s unpredictable and chaotic and exciting.
It’s all different when you’ve walked the streets. I was only in Paris for a week and have a few close friends who spent much longer there. To have slept in an apartment only one district over, to have walked the same streets as those who died suddenly makes everything more real. I had never been to New York prior to 9/11 but I imagine it’s how many people felt in that instance. We have a hard time imagining what American soldiers see and do overseas. We can’t fully grasp the damage done by a natural disaster having never been there. We have no sense of the everyday life of that particular place. It all sounds so trivial, but when you’ve been to the boulangeries and the insanely cheap grocery stores, and you’ve butchered the language it changes your entire perspective. Anything can happen, at any moment. Those attacks could have easily been anywhere; they could’ve been anytime. The friend I stayed with in Paris left for a semester in February of 2015 right after the Charlie Hebdo attack and the kosher market hostages. My trip had already been planned at that point and when people tell you “be careful” you never think you’ll actually have to be. You never imagine having to run through the streets in panic, let alone run for your life. No one ever thinks it can happen to them.
The city of lights stood dark on November 13th; it seemed as if the darkness extended all over the world.
When I was nine-years-old, my Dad came home from work yelled for us to all come out on the back deck. He was a dreamer and saw the unparalleled beauty that lay in the stars. I’ve seen cities from mountaintops and fields of green that stretch on for miles, but nothing compares to a dreamy sky. On that night, I witnessed the most beautiful sky I had ever seen from my back deck. That is, until tonight. I’m not sure how they looked elsewhere, but the stars from Upper Township, NJ outdid the ones I saw eleven years ago.
Tonight of all nights, the sky was blacker and the stars were brighter than ever. I don’t know what’s out there, I don’t know if it’s a God or whatever, but there is something out there. There has to be, doesn’t there? Whatever it is, it wants us to know that sometimes things, situations, people seem to get worse before they get better. We’re living in heightened violence, a time where human destruction has become more prevalent than human evolution. Imagine a day where our children ask what it was like to live in a time full of such arbitrary violence because they literally cannot imagine living through the events we are witnessing.
Some days we wake up as if we’re on top of the world; it’s human nature to want to feel good. Other days we rise from bed and our bones feel heavy, feel dense. Some of us went to bed with the news stuck in our head, others woke up to the terrible news. Me? I couldn’t sleep, so I wrote this. On November 14th millions of people woke up dismissing their own disparaging problems; suddenly everything else seems a little menial. We look to every corner of the world for good people, ethical people. They’re out there, they are everywhere, but it isn’t until a tragedy happens that we’re reminded of need for a community.
We watch football every Sunday; we’re emotionally invested in it, we have an unwavering loyalty to the sport. Yet somehow we can’t fully stand behind a cause, we can’t fully invest our efforts in the extinction of premeditated terror, without a wake-up call.
The city of love deserves nothing less today.