When No Place is Safe

Where should we go, and what should we do, when everything in our world feels unsafe?

I can’t think of a single place in the world that is absolutely safe. Even (or maybe especially) the places that are supposed to be our safest havens are at risk. Our schools, our churches, the movie theatres down the street, not to mention sports arenas, concert halls, trains, bus stations … each one has been affected by terror. Whether it’s a member of ISIS with a bomb strapped to his chest or a duo of conflicted teenagers, the affect is clear – we don’t feel safe. We fear going out in public. We question whether our loner neighbor is just an introvert or is plotting a terror strike. We don’t know if the boom we hear is the celebratory sound of fireworks or something sinister.

Fear surrounds us. We have ethnic groups pointing fingers at other ethnic groups in blame. We have political candidates shouting at the top of their lungs about how our country needs to “win,” further instilling the essence of fear that already plagues our society. We have people shouting for revenge and ruthlessness and more violence in response to violence with no end in sight.

Is our world more unsafe today that it’s ever been, or is it just a different kind of fear? I think of World War II and the horror the Jews must have felt when they were forced to wear a star on their clothing and live in a Ghetto. I wonder, during the Civil War, what families felt when their literal brothers could attack at any moment. I imagine the terror Native Americans must have felt when settlers forced them from their homeland without warning. I picture Jesus facing the wrath of the Romans in the first century. War has plagued our society since we’ve had the words to describe the horrors. I don’t know if it’s fair to say that the fear we face today is worse than the fear that has been here all along.

We can’t escape something that has always been here and will always remain. We can’t run from it. We can’t blow it away with missiles.

We have to accept it.

Fear is a part of our world.   It is as natural to our world as air and water. Fear exists as a counterpart to love. Fear is ugly and messy and undesirable, but it exists. It exists in others, and it exists inside of us. We can’t will it away. We can’t pretend it isn’t there.

The only place that we can find safety is within ourselves.

During times of war, people have always sought comfort in each other. Comfort has been found during the aftermath of 9/11 when friends simply got together for coffee and a silly movie, and it was found even in the depths of horrors in German concentration camps as men and women worked side-by-side with each other and offered each other camaraderie and strength. Humans have always sought and found comfort in other humans. The human spirit always prevails.

We can find strength and safety inside our own individual souls, too – and in fact, that is the truest, most real, most important place we can find it. Inside of each of us is a tiny little nugget of knowledge that understands that we are connected to the world and everything and everyone in it. There’s a little part of ourselves which, if we listen closely enough, can tell us that we are okay, because we are a part of the sun and the stars and the grass and the wind. We are not alone. We are all a part of this messy, unpredictable, beautifully imperfect world.

There are parts of each of us that suffer from the same fear and doubt that affect those that terrorize and oppress us. We certainly don’t have to agree with our enemies, or commit the same acts of violence that they do, but we can understand them. We can understand that they, too, are human, and that they, too, could have experienced the world as a loving place in different circumstances. We can renounce their terrible actions and fight against their misguided engagements, and we can also accept them as a part of humanity.

We don’t have to sit in the corner as defenseless victims. We can build a tower of strength in our own hearts, not a fortress blocking people out in defiance, but a turret that builds our society up, letting in the light and the love, bringing our brothers and sisters closer to us and inviting laughter, joy, harmony and love.

I feel sadness, apprehension and grief in light of the attacks in Paris.  Yet, I’m putting my stubborn resolve to work for me, and I’m determined to see my loved ones more often, to enjoy my time with my husband and friends and family more completely and with more gratitude and appreciation than before.  I’m determined to smile at strangers and look beyond the differences that separate me from my neighbors, instead inviting them in to my world and trying to be a part of theirs.

We don’t win by blocking people out, adding violence and terror or increasing rage. We get ahead by pulling together, making our families and communities stronger, connecting with our neighbors and listening to that little voice inside of us telling us that we are okay.

That’s how we win.

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