Goldstein: Midnight In Paris

by Matthew Goldstein | 11/15/15 6:30pm

On Friday, terrorists attacked the city of Paris. One hundred and twenty nine people were murdered, and hundreds more injured.

It is times like these that make people cynical.

It is also times like these in which we grow up, in which we realize that it has been a long time coming, but we have been growing slowly and then — well, then it hits all at once. On Friday night, I grew up. As I sat, eyes glued to a computer that was a poor substitute for a television, my mind did not wander to the SWAT teams I had seen in movies. My grasp of what was happening did not devolve into a guilty, twisted and morbidly curious waiting game to see how many people had been killed. My fingers did not dash to my phone keyboard to ask friends if they, too, were seeing what I was. For the first time I can remember, I sat in near silence for hours while I watched events unfold. It was a while before I noticed my hands were still glued to the sides of my head in incredulity. It was even longer before the bile rising in my throat abated and I stopped feeling sick.

As have most people reading this column, I’ve lived through the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York City and the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London. I’ve lived through the 2008 seige in Mumbai. I’ve lived through the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing, Boko Haram’s massacre in Baga, Nigeria, and the attack at Garissa University in Kenya that killed 147 students this past April. If not every day, it seems that every week during my lifetime has played host to another attack in God-knows-where motivated by God-knows-what. Another moment of outrage. Another slow march out of our minds and into the history books.

And now, in the past week, I have lived through three more attacks. The bombings in Beirut and Baghdad were tragic and reprehensible. And call me what you may, but for me, Paris was different. This was not a place that had been a warzone for most of my life — and, of course, by no means does that diminish the value of the lives lost in other places. But on Friday night, over a hundred people lay slain on the streets where they shot “The 400 Blows” (1959). Over 300 people lay bruised, bloodied and battered in the city where the Mona Lisa lives.

This is Paris — whose smell is love and whose taste is wine. Paris, the city of lasting romance and hope in “Casablanca” (1942). Paris, whose buildings have borne bloody revolution, fascist flags and then the miraculous glow of a peaceful future. Paris, perhaps the one original seat of Western democracy.

Whatever may come of this awful tragedy, Nov. 13, 2015 will be a day remembered not only in France but around the world. It will be a day when something changed — what, I do not know. And regardless of whether it is right or wrong, for much of the world it will be remembered far more than either Beirut or Baghdad, or Kabul, Peshawar, Pakistan or Sana, Yemen. It just will.

I grew up on Friday night as I heard the screams of people fleeing a concert hall and imagined it was me. My family. My friends. Imagined the terror of knowing that just a few feet away stands somebody willing and able to end all you have ever worked toward. Somebody whose hatred for your life far outweighs their love for their own.

It is at times like this that we become cynical. But we must remember that it is also at times like this that the full range of human love and support is on display. And we must, in the face of absolute evil, never lose that love.

A small part of the universe broke on Friday, as it does every other day that someone is murdered. But so long as there is darkness there is light that can drive it out. So long as we remember that we must always push for good, maybe we will not have to become cynical.

And maybe one day we can grow up a little less often.