What do we do after a terrorist attack? How do we keep going? We feel afraid and helpless. How do we deal with our fear? Just as when someone close to us has died, the urge to do something, anything, is so strong. But what?
One European Union official on BBC radio this morning had an excellent suggestion. In an age where the first reaction is to go online and write something to our Facebook friends, he declared that it’s time to get away from the pull of social media, and come together in real time with real people. He is urging Belgians later today to gather at one of the large squares in Brussels, to come together face-to-face with strangers, to show solidarity with the victims, to hold hands…in short, to vivre ensemble–to live together.
I know what this feels like. In the days after 9/11, I, along with all other Americans and so many people around the world, were overcome by a profound need to connect with others. I talked to people in Germany I hadn’t spoken to in years. I went to the town square and sang in a crowd in front of the post office. I found myself one day at the Unitarian-Universalist church (where I was not a member) holding hands in a circle with a group of strangers. At that moment the idea of feeling like a citizen-of-the-world was not some far-out concept—it was happening. It’s happening now again, unfortunately as the result of despicable, misguided, inhuman acts designed to make us afraid of each other.
And we are afraid. How can you not be? The world has changed and it’s no good sticking your head in the sand. But as we come to terms with new dangers, as we make sensible adjustments to try to protect ourselves from the unfathomable desire in some to deny their humanity and massacre the innocents, we have to reach out with greater determination than ever to resist that part of us that wants to demonize entire groups of people who are as innocent as the victims of the bombings. We need to connect not just with our friends, our co-religionists, or fellow-countrymen, but with the entire world. We must find a path into the future together based on what we all have in common: our humanity.
Stop reading this and go hold someone’s hand.