I’ve been doing a little solo parenting for the last few days and ever since news starting coming through my twitter feed about the Paris attacks I have been avoiding the news. Not because I didn’t want to explain to my daughters about the attacks, but because I am not sure how to explain to them that some lives are more valuable than others.
I feel sad and terrible for the people who were killed and injured in the attacks in Paris and for their families and loved ones. At least 129 dead. I’d also like to add a few other numbers for consideration: 224, 43, and 143,150. 224 people died when a Russian plane crashed in Egypt October 31, 2015. The cause is as yet not yet officially determined, but western security services seem to think it was blown out of the sky by a bomb and ISIS claimed responsibility for bringing the plan down. 43 people were killed by suicide bombers in Beruit, Lebanon on Friday, the same day as the attacks in Paris. ISIS also claimed responsibility for those attacks. 143,150 is the low-end estimate of the death toll in the Syrian Civil War. The upper end of that range is 340,125. I feel sad and terrible for all of these people and loved ones. Not to mention all the other people killed in various ways around the world.
I have not seen a single person in my Facebook or Twitter feed overlay their profile picture with the Russian or Lebanese flags in the past week or two. I haven’t seen anybody indicate that they feel less safe in the world because of the attack in Beruit or the downing of the Russian plane. I have not seen any comments from western governments expressing sympathy for the Lebanese people killed the same day as the 129 people in France. Why is that exactly? Are we so inured to death in the middle east that we no longer care? Do we withhold sympathy for people on board Russian planes because Vladimir Putin is not in the good books of western democracies? Are we so conflicted about the Syrian War that we don’t know who to feel sorry for?
People die. They… we die in all kinds of ways. Sure, it is terrifying to think that you could just be out at a soccer match or concert and be killed by lunatics who think they are making a point. It is also terrifying to think you could be walking across the road to get your mail and be hit by a car and killed. In spite of our best efforts, death is often random and unexpected. Yet we elevate the deaths of certain people to either heroic or martyrdom status, not because of who they were in life, but because of how they died.
I don’t have any stats on deaths in France on a daily basis. I would be willing to bet that from all causes it is quite a bit higher than 129. It is extremely unlikely that the names any of the people who died in France on Friday as a result of car crashes, domestic violence, suicide, heart failure or Alzheimer’s will ever appear in my local newspaper here in Canada. And yet I will see the stories of those people shot and blown up by a group of misguided criminals. I will learn their nationalities, their names and stories of lives cut short in their prime, not because of what they achieved in life, but because they were in the path of a bullet from a gun in a western country and a terrorist organization laid claim to their death. The same is true in Canada. Last year Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot and killed by a man who needed help and who decided that killing a soldier and storming Parliament was the best solution to his problems. All Canadians know Cirillo’s name and the government of the day and many media outlets labelled him a Canadian hero, again not because of what he accomplished in life, but because of how he died. I am certain that there were Canadian soldiers who died during training last year and yet I do not know their names. I also do not know the names of the 50+ soldiers and veterans who have committed suicide to stop the pain they lived with as a result of their service to our country.
Why do we insist on making people more important because of how and where they died? We ought to be celebrating people for how they lived. Everyone has stories and accomplishments. Everyone has struggles, some of us overcome those struggles and some of us are overcome by our struggles. Those are all important stories. They are human stories. I know when we hear and read the stories of those killed by people who wish to strike fear into our hearts we each find someone to identify with. A father, a young mother, a son, a grandmother – we can see ourselves in these stories and we think, ‘oh man, I’ve been to a place like that before and that person’s story is similar to mine, it could have just as easily been me that was killed.’ That is where our fear comes from. If it could happen to that guy it could happen to me.
The reality is that is absolutely true. It could happen to you or me or anyone and there is nothing we can do about it. Arming every person and putting soldiers on the street corners will not prevent deaths. If someone is determined to make a statement by killing someone else, they will find a way to do it. That is reality. It is also reality that we could be killed crossing the road to get the mail. In fact, it is more likely that we will get taken out by a car while crossing the road than by someone with a gun or a bomb and yet we don’t carry that fear with us.
So how do we deal with all this potential death? 1) We can live in fear, not just of terrorist attacks, but also getting hit by a bus or contracting a fatal disease. 2) We can live our lives the best way we can (I choose this one).
Every day and every action entails risk and there are ways we can reduce our risk, look both ways when crossing the street, wear a bike helmet or seat belt, take driving lessons, don’t text or drink and drive, try not to irritate anyone with a gun, don’t mix up Star Wars and Star Trek, etc.
We have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others. We have the opportunity to live our lives to the fullest. We have the opportunity to live lives that result in others remembering us for how we live as opposed to how we die. You don’t need to be rich or privileged to make a difference for someone. As a dad I hope to make a difference for my kids. I want them to grow up informed and hopeful. I want to help them see how they can make a difference in the world. As a husband I want to support and lift up my partner as she make a difference in the lives of our kids and other kids by giving them the gift of music and self-expression. I’m sure that at least one of those now kids will use the skills they learn to sing songs to their kids or they will become a music teacher or physician or politician who believes in the arts and funds them as an investment in our future.
I want for us to share stories of our lives and grow together as communities of people who see hope and commonality in our stories. I want for us to find ways to make things better together. I want us to see that we can live together in hope instead of fear. I want us to see that all lives are important regardless of where we live, because we can all make a difference. I want for all of us humans to be equally valued for our lives instead of some of us being made more important due to the manner and place of our deaths. So get up, step over your fears and do something that makes a positive difference for someone today.