It’s been a week since Hell hit Paris, and those French flag profile pics on social media are already starting to go away. They won’t vanish as swiftly as they appeared. They’ll decrease in number, little by little, just like those rainbows from a few months ago. Those rainbows made me happy. I enjoyed opening up my timeline and seeing the burst of color. We’d fought for equality and won. This is how we shout things from the rooftops, now. This was our happiness, translated to small, digital images.
Of course, seeing some people ranting about the greatness of the Confederate flag from a rainbow profile made it clear that many didn’t give a shit about (or comprehend) equality as much as they do following the photo filter herd while screeching about what they want.
Yeah, I got cynical. I forced myself to focus on those I knew were genuinely shouting with pure joy, and I felt better.
When the French flag filter came, I just shook my head. Look, I appreciate that people feel helpless and need to express sympathy, solidarity, and concern. I understand a small, well-intended gesture. I do. But, those photo filters do something else, too. They take a horrific tragedy and make it the cause du jour. The herd change their profile pic for a few days, follow the crowd, screech again about what they want, then remove it a few days later when they’ve taken a new selfie. And unfortunately, that well-meaning gesture that was sincere for others is diminished.
Come on, let’s get real. Changing your profile pic to a French flag while making crude generalizations about Muslims, or referring to refugees as terrorists negates your gesture a bit. Many French ARE Muslims and refugees.
A small act from someone pained and feeling helpless, I get that. Making terrorist attacks a Facebook trend… it’s just gross.
I see people who, when I moved to France and married a French citizen, carried on with ignorant French bashing, jokes, and insults right to my face, who now announce that they’re praying for Paris from behind a selfie painted with the bleu, blanc et rouge. And I wonder, why did people have to die for you to stop being a douche? Why was them being human beings not enough? Why was it being my home and my family not enough for you to be kind?
I’ve been seeing people who, at one time shouted about boycotting anything French. You know them. The Freedom Fries crowd. This week, they’ve been shouting again about how France is our oldest ally as though this is new information for the rest of us; as though they’ve been loyal lovers of France all along. Forgetting their French bashing because they’re just too excited to go bomb the shit out of somebody. Or, at least to post more memes about guns or Obama or evil refugees or something. Yo go, Keyboard Commandos.
Yeah, I got cynical. Again. I forced myself to focus on those I knew were crying with me, and I felt better.
I thought over and over about how these waking nightmare days expose the selfish, callous, and ignorant among us. The bigoted, stupid, hateful, and opportunistic. (I could go on and on about all of the disgusting things people have been saying and doing this week, but I don’t need to, because you’ve heard all of the stupidity and hypocrisy, too.) I also thought about how days like these also show us how many amazing people walk among us every day.
In a strange way, I’ve been sitting in the sidelines of things. Existing on the periphery of tragedy. I was still in the U.S. in 2001, and like the rest of my country, I cried and remained stuck to the news on 9/11 and the days that followed. I noticed a sky absent of airplanes the day after the Twin Towers came down. I was in Colorado, far from NYC. Miles away, on the sidelines.
I recall one day, in 2006, sitting in our apartment in Montmartre, listening to my husband on the phone, checking on his relatives in Beirut during the war taking place at that time. We were afraid for them, and relieved when we found out that they were safe, but that did nothing to ease our worry or sadness. What could we do? Miles away, feeling guilty from the safety of France.
A couple of years ago, we were gearing up for Christmas in l’Auvergne with my in-laws. My father-in-law had recently returned home from a Doctors Without Borders trip in Yemen. Laying in bed, reading the news on my phone, I turned to my husband and said, “Fucking terrorists just bombed a hospital in Yemen and killed a bunch of foreign medical workers.” We looked at one another, but nothing more was said. Nothing more needed to be said. We were lucky. All of us were safe. And we were thankful.
I’ve already discussed how much the Charlie Hebdo shootings hit home for us. It was too close. It hurt. But, I followed the lead set forth by everyone else in my adopted country. I went outside and walked among them in the streets to say that I was not afraid. And standing in that crowd, walking among them, looking at their faces, and knowing we were all feeling the same thing, I wasn’t afraid. I was sad. I was angry, but not afraid.
Less than two months ago, Olivier and I arrived in our rental car at the port in Calais with our dog, cat, and suitcase in the back. It was moving day. We were leaving France behind for now, and beginning a new adventure in the UK. On the way to our ferry, we passed by the refugee camp. I promise you, even from my brief observation, it is not a nice place to live. Little camping tents, crowded against one another in the mud. I don’t know if you’ve been in this part of Europe during the autumn and winter months, but it is very damp and cold. Imagine living like this with ISIS on one side of you, and a bunch of people with first world problems gawking as they pass by you if they happen to look up from their phones.
I gawked, too. And I felt like shit. I still feel like shit.
And then the Paris Attacks happened. We spent the next morning staring at our screens, checking emails, Facebook, messages, anything and everything. We both rattled off names of people we knew in Paris who we had to check on. The Bataclan had us especially worried. We contacted everyone. They were all okay. Some of them were nearby, or live in the area of the attacks, but they were okay. One of our friends said, “I had a couple of friends at the Bataclan, but they got out. They’re okay.”
Again, I watched from the periphery, my feet dangling over the edge of these terrible things, wondering how long it will be before I, or someone I care about is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I fall off the edge.
A fear many of us have. I know this. Even those of us who are worlds away from the sidelines, living in remote places a terrorist has never even thought of, much less planning to attack. Fear seeps in to hidden places on maps as well as people.
Then I focused my attention on those who weren’t afraid, and my worry subsided.
I’m not talking about the chest thumping, warmongers yelling about bombing and combat. I’m talking about everyone who went outside and sat outside on a café terrace, or said, “Hey, fuck those assholes, I’m going to a show.” I’m talking about the people who can tell the difference between a terrorist and refugee, whose humanity exceeds their fear. People who refuse to deny themselves and others a certain quality of life.
And me, I probably need to be a little less cynical when it comes to something as superficial as a profile pic on a social media account. I still have many things to learn, too. (Then again, if you still have one of those Confederate flag filters on your pic, I judge you.) I don’t know how each and every person feels, but please… if you’re going to care, please go all the way with it. Care for more than a few days. Care about something during the darkness and the light, and not only when it’s the issue of the day. Or worse yet, when you’re just worried about your own ass.
Be a human being, not a photo filter. Be excellent to each other. Be not afraid.