I graduated from Hardin High School, a tiny district in southeast Texas near the Louisiana border. There were 48 in our graduating class, in 1980. Those of us who are still alive are 53 or 54 years old.
In the 36 years since we roamed those halls, the death toll of our classmates is sobering: Bud died in his sleep our senior year; Ethel died in a car crash with an 18-wheeler; Ford was shot and killed at a party at university; Rodney drowned in the Trinity River; Ronald (my cousin) died at home; Jim succumbed to Lou Gehrig’s Disease; Russell died after being hit by a car while walking along the roadside. Nearly 25% of our classmates are no longer with us.
I woke up day before yesterday to news of the three terrorist bombings in Brussels — two at the airport and one in the subway system. More than thirty people have been killed and hundreds injured. It’s maddening and heartbreaking to watch the footage of average people — not military personnel, not extremists — run for their lives. The people who are hurt are innocent bystanders who had the misfortune of being at a location the terrorists targeted.
I’d be lying if I said these threats don’t give me pause. The terror alert in Paris is high, and Bill and I travel there April 7th.
Since January 1, 2016, there have been 223 terrorist attacks (see list here) around the globe. Though many of them are in areas of frequent disruption — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Iraq — others have occurred in France, India, Turkey and now, Brussels. As the death toll mounts and the attacks increase, the sphere of possibility broadens. Part of the shock of the bombings is the impossibility of knowing when or where they might occur.
But does anyone in the United States believe they’re safe? We convince ourselves that staying in a place that’s familiar and known provides protection. But who could have foreseen the massacre in San Bernadino? Tragedy is all around us.
Though I don’t want to believe the terrorists are winning, their tactics are achieving their goals: they’ve created a very specific kind of fear in the world. If it can happen in Brussels, it can happen in Houston, or Tampa, or Denver.
Maybe it’s fatalism, but I believe when my number is up, it’s up. I could lose my life to a drunk driver while pulling out of the parking lot of the grocery store, or suffer a sudden heart attack while in the backyard… or die in a bombing while waiting to board the Paris Metro. There are certain things we can’t control. All of us live with this possibility.
If violence in the world becomes a reason not to travel, then a person would never travel at all.
Yesterday, I walked out onto the deck and looked around at the redwoods that surround our property. I love the smell of the forest at our doorstep, and enjoy listening to the murmurings of our chickens as they wander and peck in their yard. I love life, and don’t want it to end. How could I not imagine what might happen while we’re traveling in Paris?
For that matter, who could have predicted the death of our high school friends? It astounds me to realize they will never even see their 55th birthday.
But fear is a lousy reason to stop living life.
So on April 7th we’re boarding the plane for Paris. We will have been flying for nearly 12 hours when we land, so we’re splurging and taking a taxi to the apartment. Will we sleep on the plane? If past history is any indication, the answer is no. When we flew to England, we took Ambien so we would sleep and arrive “refreshed” but our excitement kept us awake. Wide-eyed and fuzzy-minded we stumbled our way out of Heathrow and into the streets of London.
In Paris we’ll keep our eyes open, and remain alert. Bill flies back April 15th but I’ll stay until May 7th. No one knows what the future holds, but we won’t let terrorists prevent us from exploring our rich and fascinating world.