The story of the terror attacks in Paris dominates the news here in the United States. Not only are we told of the horror of the attacks that have already occurred, but we are also warned of threats of future attacks directed against American public places. There exists a great sense of urgency to these news stories that unless we embrace the calls for fear and alarm and pay close attention to the continuing news feed we are somehow putting ourselves at risk. It’s not clear to me exactly what it is we’re supposed to do other than become alarmed and soak up every bit of detailed information we can from the news media. I know some state governors have answered the calls for action by declaring that they will not allow Syrian refugees to find a safe haven in their states. I’m not sure where the Constitutional authority for such a decision comes from, but I am confident that many tax dollars will be spent finding out. Fear is the business of terrorists and politicians.
I’m reminded of another blog post that I wrote on my law practice website almost exactly a year ago when a gunman entered Strozier library at Florida State. I’ve decided to resurrect that post to share with you now in hopes that it might provide you some peace of mind as we endure the media blitz:
This morning, like the rest of Tallahassee, I awoke to the news of the shootings at the Strozier Library on the Florida State University Campus. I thought about this, and other recent events of violence this morning as I walked along Monroe Street through the middle of downtown Tallahassee. It’s a beautiful crisp fall day in Tallahassee. The sunlight being reflected off the buildings in downtown absolutely shimmers. People are friendly with me as I pass them on the street and the cold fall air is invigorating to me as I walk along. Observing my surroundings I was reminded that, despite all the problems, there remains great beauty in the world if we take time to notice it.
I thought about Stozier and the many other libraries where I’ve so many hours of my life. For me, libraries were so much more than just a place of knowledge; there were places of refuge. In high school the library was a place where I could find escape the hoodlums and social nonsense that are part of a public school education. In the books and periodicals I found glimpses of a future I wanted to build for myself. I still remember the book with the red cover that I found and used to teach myself to play guitar. Libraries are places of escape where I can put together my dreams.
However, it occurs to me that this week my other places of refuge have also been violated by gun violence. The synagogue attack in Jerusalem resonates in my mind as being yet another senseless act of indiscriminate violence in a place where I have often looked to find refuge from the world and direction in life.
As I was walking I thought about how does one go forward from these types of events? For me the answer is that I’m going forward with a willingness to be vulnerable. I am not going to arm myself or live in fear. I don’t think the solution is reprisal, increased security, or more guns. Besides, I don’t really have the power to control any of those things. I’m not politically powerful, so I know others will shape that public policy along their own interests. Other people decide security issues. I don’t own or intend to purchase a handgun. However, I can go out into the world and work to bring light and justice into the lives of others. I can do my best to help others find their dignity and self-worth such that they won’t feel compelled to turn to guns or violence to feel respected. I can remember that all lives matter and no human being is disposable. I can do my best, as Father Greg Boyle reminds us, to create a circle of compassion where nobody stands outside the circle and the margins that separate people are erased.