It has taken me several days to catch my breath enough to write to you about the violence and tragedy in Paris last week. Everything one can say sounds trite, the words are not enough. The very idea of violence against our fellow man shocking, the results whatever the reason shocking, and in the end, despite politics and religion, it is about lives lost. Not just lives you see on TV in alarming videos, or read about in the newspaper, when violence occurs and people die, but someone’s father, mother, husband, child, someone we love or respect or care about is gone forever, and the lives they touched are forever changed.
For years we have read about civil wars, nowadays we read about terrorism, and not only committed by foreigners, but in our own country, by our own people as well. It is inexplicable and terrifying, heartbreaking, and part of our daily lives now. Whether 9/11 or the Boston Marathon, or the tragedy in Paris, or a lone gunman on a college campus, the children murdered at the school in Connecticut a year or two ago, or a number of years ago the children shot and killed in an Amish school, or in Colorado, and in the bombing in Oklahoma 20 years ago. Whatever the reason, or whoever the perpetrators, in the end, it is about the people who were lost, and the families who must live on without them. And our hearts ache immeasurably for those who died, for those who love them, and even for ourselves. We each lose a part of ourselves as well when tragedies occur, we lose our faith, our peace, our trust, our confidence that we are safe, and things will turn out well, and even that our children are safe.
Throughout the centuries, and all through time, religious causes have driven people to kill each other. It is an age old story, but one we are never inured to. It is always shocking, but it is not new. Today we see it more vividly on TV, cell phone videos, and computer screens. But the story is the same, the loss as agonizing. And each time something like this happens, no matter who does it, we are stunned into silence, we are grief stricken, and our hearts ache.
I am so deeply sorry for the families and loved ones of those who died in Paris last week. Whatever the political opinions or religions of the people involved, in the end it is about each person who was lost. We question what could or should have been done differently, why it happened, and in some cases why we didn’t suspect it could or would. It is always difficult to understand the reasons for man’s cruelty to each other at times, and the justifications. It is difficult to understand why it happens or that it does at all. How does a crazed student or young person slip through the cracks, climb over the barriers in their own head, and kill innocent children? Or in another case, kill the parents of innocent children.
We are all traumatized by this. I hear grief in the voice of everyone I speak to in my second home in France. People are subdued and shocked and sad. We all suffer a loss through something like this, and it breeds fear, anger, and cynicism.
We don’t know why it happens, why a breaking point is reached. We pray it won’t happen again. I fear there will always be tragedies of this kind; it is the nature of the human race. And for those of us in the outer circles of public events like this, we are helpless to change it, or make it better, or prevent it from happening again. I am reminded of something Mother Teresa said “We cannot do big things, only small things with an immense amount of love”. Let us do the small things, let us live our lives in love, let us make our small circle of life and the world better because we’re in it. And let us hope that those who perpetrate tragedies will find mercy in their hearts in future. Let the families and loved ones heal, and may those who have died in violence find peace.
When my son Nick died, a suicide at 19, I caught a very bad cold that turned into pneumonia shortly after. I went to my doctor, a kind man, who gave me a ‘dreidel’, the little top that is a tradition at Chanukah in the Jewish faith. It has Hebrew letters on it which say “A great miracle happened here”. When he gave it to me, I thought he was crazy. How could a miracle possibly have happened when my son was dead? But in time, it proved to be true, we started two foundations in his name to help the mentally ill and the homeless and we have helped thousands of people since his death. I wrote a book about him, his life and his illness, which over a million people have read, and it helped many of them. I have spoken out about mental illness, which has helped dispel some of the stigma and mystery around mental illness. One boy, my son, started all of that and caused it to happen, which is a miracle in a way. So many, many lives were touched because of his death. And when there is a tragedy, there is a miracle in it too. It can spawn empathy, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, change, it can be a bridge between grieving people, bring people closer together, and change lives. My prayer is that somewhere in the ashes of this tragedy, there will be a miracle for those who have survived and for the rest of us. May a miracle we cannot even guess at now eventually emerge? And to those who have lost loved ones, my deepest sympathy. And may we all do small things to help and comfort each other, with an immense amount of love.
With all my love to you, Danielle