The attacks in Paris that left at least 129 people dead and 352 wounded on Friday have caused a sense of helplessness and grief around the world. Paris is not the only place to suffer loss as a result of terrorist attacks, but many to find it easy to empathize with the people of Paris.
There are no words to express the feelings of sadness for what happened. There are no words that can be said to comfort those who lost friends, family members and co-workers.
Being Present in Tragedy
When faced with a tragedy like the Paris attacks, we like to come up with ideas about what people should do. We talk about what must be done. We speculate about how that terrible thing could have been avoided. We want to blame. Doing this can make us feel better or less vulnerable.
Instead of inserting our opinion or pointing a finger of blame. Instead of talking about what needs to change or what we would do if it were up to us. Instead of suggesting what should change. We can just be present. We can just sit with it and reflect on it. This actually takes tremendous courage. To really absorb what’s happened means to admit that this life is incredibly fragile. It means admitting that tragedy can strike anyone at anytime. It could have been us. It could have been our family, friend and co-workers.
This uncomfortable reality makes us feel small and vulnerable. It strips us of our certainty and feelings of safety. It causes us to imagine what would it have been like to have our home destroyed. What if it were the people that we love who were killed?
Empathy is painful. It hard work. The kind of work that makes us uncomfortable and unsettled. We can empathize with the people in Paris who lost loved ones and even those who did not, but now are fearful. Doing so means not taking anything for granted. It means that we recognize that there’s not such a big difference between us and them. It means just being there with them in that place even though we are not.