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Six hours is all that separates us from Paris

Marney Rich Keenan
The Detroit News

On the same Friday night that evil incarnate led to the slaughter of concertgoers in a Paris concert hall, I attended a Jr. Jr. concert at the Royal Oak Music Theater with those I hold most dear in this world.

None of us — my three daughters, in town for a family wedding, along with their cousins, my brothers and sisters-in law — made any mention of the body count that was mounting as we laughed and danced to the indie pop band.

Still, not far from our minds was the knowledge that all that separated us from those in that atrocity was a six-hour time zone.

Even the theaters were similar. Both the Royal Oak venue and Paris’ Bataclan Theater seat about 1,500 and both have first floor dance floors with balconies overhead. When I read later that many of the terrorists were shooting down on the concertgoers from the balcony, I shuddered.

By the time we got home and checked CNN, it was about midnight. The numbers of the dead surpassed 100. The juxtaposition of our happiness and the mayhem ripping through other families could not be more jarring.

By Sunday we were saying goodbyes at the airport. Only then did we begin to absorb the horror. I forced myself to watch the video of the pregnant woman clinging to a window ledge outside the concert hall and crying for help, while below her people were dragging their dead and/or dying friends by the ankles down the alley.

Sitting down to watch “Homeland” felt wrong: How could we find a drama about Syria and fighting terrorists entertaining? Indeed, a tag line on the bottom of the screen warned that in light of the Paris attacks, some viewers might find the episode too close to home.

Meanwhile, friends vent on social media. “How do we maintain our freedom and ideals in the face of the threat of endless, faceless terrorism?” my musician friend posted. “If we’re all just petrified, pissed off and without moral courage as a people, the panic vote tends to support the right wing militaristic candidate who contend that they’ll stomp ISIS out of existence in a jiffy, wipe the dirt off their hands, and walk away. Ain’t that simple. Never was.”

My husband sends me HBO’s John Oliver’s “moment of premium-cable profanity” laced message to the terrorists. Another friend posts a five-minute history lesson for anyone itching to send U.S. ground troops to Syria. Its message is clear: Whoever does put boots on the ground will find there is no end in sight.

Another friend posts a photo of a highway billboard sponsored by the U.S. Marines. It reads: “It’s God’s job to judge the terrorists. It’s our mission to arrange the meeting.”

One post I read aloud to my husband. It is from the Paris victim in the theater who pretended to be dead for over an hour. “Cries of grown men who held their girlfriends dead bodies pierced the small music venue. ... And truly believing that I would join them, I promise that their last thoughts were not on the animals who caused all this. It was thinking of the people they loved. As I lay down in the blood of strangers and waiting for my bullet to end my mere 22 years, I envisioned every face that I have ever loved and whispered I love you. Over and over again.”

When I look up, I see his eyes brimming.

By mid-week it was still difficult to wrap our heads around the unfathomable suffering. To ask why jihadist terrorists hate us so is to open up a Pandora’s box — depending on whom you talk to — containing decades of failed foreign policy, or religion dating back to the crusades or our western values.

How to best respond was also a quagmire. Those unhappy with the president’s reticence to send ground troops had to consider setting an unsustainable precedent. Being fearful of our security means the terrorists are winning, but suspending immigration of Syrian refugees lacks compassion.

Still shellshocked, we are betwixt and between; shaky but on guard, mired in cognitive dissonance. With so much as stake, all that seems certain is that we cannot remain the same.