For Paris. For Beirut. For the grief of the collective and the individual.
I grieve Paris, because it feels familiar, another European city just like ours. With people eating and drinking on a Friday night at cafés just like we do. It hurts because it brings the unrest of the world into our reality. I live in a neighbourhood where there is beauty, and bars, and restaurants, and markets – where I buy my flowers from ‘echte Amsterdammers’, and my vegetables from Turkish grocers, and my coffee from Scandinavian hipsters, and have my eyebrows threaded in an Iranian kapsalon. Where we brush against one another simply because of the density and diversity of the city. I grieve for Paris because I value the connectedness of European life, and I don’t want fear to rob that from us.
I grieve for Paris because of what it will mean for Europe. What it will mean for those who are desperately trying to find safety here. We have been crying out for arms to open wide to those who are fleeing wars and we hate to hear the words terrorists and refugees used interchangeably, because we know refugees and we know that they are not terrorists.
Our grief for the thing that feels close does not diminish the tragedy for the thing that feels far. The deaths in Beirut are not made less because of Europe’s mourning of Paris. It may show the vast inequality of the world’s narrative of what tragedy deserves live coverage through the night, but heartache is neither appeased nor minimized by what makes it onto the TV screens of the world. It may display a lack of connectedness from one tragedy or another, but I fear I cannot connect my whole being to every tragedy.
I don’t know if that is right or wrong. It may be neutral. I may grieve my personal loss more than I grieve the bombing in Lebanon, but it does not mean that the friends of those killed in Lebanon feel less than I feel for the death of my friend. They will always carry their loss, so will I, and so will Paris. So will Syria. So will every heart that encounters tragedy and none of us will survive our entire lifetime without it.
There is no scale or grade for what tragedy is deserving of our attention. #BlackLivesMatters has been showing America that the media’s portrayal of black deaths is biased against black life. Paris shows us that the news finds more to say about terrorism that hits the north western world than it does for the middle eastern (etc. etc. etc.) world. Is it equal? No. Does it change the value of human lives?
If a human life is cut down and nobody mourns, does it mean that life is worth less?
The media does not get to decide if your loss is worthy of grief. You decide that.
So how do we address the inequality of media coverage? How do we let our hearts expand to include care of people whose lives do not resemble our own? We must not insulate ourselves. We must not let fear divide us. We must connect to those whose worlds feel far away from our own. But we will not always have the ability to do that.
I follow the news in South Africa, because I lived there once. I follow the corruption of governments in Zimbabwe and Moldova because I have been there, and I have friends I care about who live there. I follow the news in Pakistan because someone I love is there. I care about Syria because I once studied with a Syrian who fled and I will never forget how he said, “No phones” when I asked if he knows how his family is. I support welcoming the ‘foreigner’ into Europe because I have friends who have sought asylum here and because even with my passport, I too am foreign. And I grieve the loss of my friend immensely. They are all connected inside of me. I am full up with heartache and lament.
Now I mourn for Paris. I mourn for Beirut too and I feel properly chastised in my ignorance. If not for Paris, most of us would have not known about Beirut.
We mourn when we know. We mourn when we connect. We mourn when we empathise. We mourn to give value, but even without our mourning those lives still have worth.
We cannot grieve it all. Yet we cannot turn away. And here we are left, in the tension.
This is the gift of globalisation. This is its burden.