The terrorist attacks in Paris were tragic. That sentence cannot be followed by but. No tragedy can be used to make a point — no matter how true — without devaluing the dignity of those who suffered in it.
Let’s follow it instead with and. Because and can lead us to steps that will perhaps — rather than discount the suffering — more fully count the suffering.
So the attacks in Paris were and are tragic; and what do we say to the fact that Paris brought to international light and attention terror that happens daily; happens silently; happens unnoted and unmourned.
Is our understanding of and awareness of human dignity based mainly on the wild swing of the media spotlight? Do we care when caring is carried by the majority, when Facebook makes it easy to take note and change our profile pictures to make shows of solidarity? Do we notice human dignity when an event like the Paris attacks — a large-scale attack on humanity — occurs but not when it appears small-scale, for example, the daily killing of individual preborn babies in abortion, and attacks on the women, their mothers?
Yet Paris illustrated something positive as well. The outpouring of solidarity and outcries over the violence against human lives showed a community of hearts that are open. We, as a community, value fellow human lives. We, as a community, have hearts for justice. We, as a community, acknowledge the preciousness of the human person — if we did not, why would Paris matter?
So why do we not go a step further? Why do we not mourn or revolt against the racism in our backyard? Why do we not swap our Facebook profile pics every morning for shots barred by baby blue and baby pink, to recognize the thousands of children’s lives taken by the abortionist each morning? Why do we not decry the terrorism that downed a Russian jet; or post prayers for the Christians executed without a second thought in the Middle East; or weep on our friends’ shoulders at the horror of child abuse, hidden by a cultural assent to broken families and a no-holds-barred surrender to sexual whims?
Why? Why do we have hearts so open, and yet eyes so blind? Perhaps part of the contradiction lies in simple laziness.
We are spoon-fed values by our phones, by the media which we consume. Perhaps we are too used to going with the flow.
Or perhaps even, as Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in The Brothers Karamazov, love in action is a terrible thing compared to love in dreams. To decry Paris is the sign of an open heart; to miss or ignore the abortionist’s violence is the sign of a lazy will, an unwillingness to work or suffer.
We Americans are excellent at care and compassion. But we do not suffer well.
So we cry over Paris — rightly so, justly so. But we weep little, and act less over the fact that thousands of human lives are taken by the abortionist each day in our own backyard. Every day, abortion and sex trafficking take human lives and take human dignity, treating human life as a commodity, to be bought and sold as entertainment on the information highway.
So Paris was a tragedy. This is true. Can Paris also be — even in its horror — a moment to find our values, and make them active things, terrible active things that will not only cry out over the taking of human life, but will also act out to change our culture and our world into one that holds human lives as precious, in every circumstance?
Human dignity under assault in Paris became a news story; it became a movement; it exposed the preciousness of life by showing that life to be precarious. Is it just a news story? Or can it instead be the reality that we, personally, authentically, seek each day, act on each day, defend each day?
Dostoyevsky was right. Love in action is a terrible thing compared to love in dreams, if we take love in action to mean something active, alive, able to transform what it touches. But if love in action is terrible, then terrifying is lack of love in action, love in dreams, which responds with emotion, but has no will and allows terrorism to live in the dark that its fluffy pink dreams fear to enter.
We do have hearts. Paris showed us that. May we also have wills, and the courage to use them, so that Paris may be a tragedy and an opportunity.