We have been through this before. The shock, the stunned disbelief at the inhumanity of humankind. 129 killed in Paris. 20 dead in Mali. The vows from the nations to exact punishing revenge. The promise from the terrorists to bring more death and heartbreak. The cycle is one that is very familiar to us by now, but in this case familiarity does not coax any comfort. Indeed, our familiarity with the events of this week are a big part of the terror that its architects seek to build upon, an undermining of our confidence, of the rhythms of our lives, of the certainties around which we live out our days.
The magnitude of the attacks and the brutality of people attempting to destroy the very fabric of a shared existence casts us all into despair, even if only for a moment. We are lost in attempting to understand the psychology of mass murder. We cannot fathom the mindset which prompts a youthful jihadist to forsake his or her own life and possibilities. And failing to comprehend such convoluted thoughts, we are left empty and seemingly without hope. How do we come to terms with an adversary whose only objective is to obliterate us and themselves?
Amidst the debris of this deadly week, many in Paris and Mali have offered brave declarations of intended normalcy and defiant standing. The streets of Paris are once again filled with the living, who intend their presence as a statement of resilience and determination. Their attempts to console each other and the rest of us are admirable, though perhaps not completely convincing; the backfire of an automobile triggers fears that hide just below the surface of courageous postures. We applaud the bravado, but we know the anxiety. We have experience enough to recognize it.
Then, as if in response to our collective need for strength and stability, we were gifted with the interview. If you have not seen it, give yourself the gift of watching it here. Much of the world has seen it by now, in this age of social media which facilitates bombings and healings in dispassionate and equal measure. The reporter’s interview was with a man and his young son, two of the thousands who had come to the spontaneous memorial of flowers and candles, laid in tribute to the victims of this current insanity. The reporter sought to learn how a father might be talking to his son about something seemingly inexplicable. What the father and son provided is nothing less than an answer for us all, a touching exchange that, in the end, might be the best and the most that we can do. And it may be just quite enough.
For in the end, none of us will carry the largest gun. No one can corner the market on deep-seated hatreds. There are no borders or boundaries sufficient to assure absolute protection from the weakness of humankind. If the game being played is “last fool standing,” then we all eventually lose anyway. But in the playing of it, we have choices both personal and collective. We have each other, the chance to know love and empathy and beauty and every other good thing encountered in our lives. Anne Frank knew the truth of it and wrote about it, until her turn was over.
Who can know our final destiny as a species? A final fool might eventually, in fact, rule over whatever blighted remains of earth there may be. But we will have had flowers….