Caring is not a competition: the LA view on the Paris tragedy

By Isabel Nelson (@malhibou)

I was going to write an article for this week about the homelessness crisis happening in Los Angeles but last night I decided that was going to wait.

That’s not to say what’s happening here isn’t awful; the more I delve into it, the worse I find it.

However, a city that has been a cultural touchstone for the world for centuries came under attack on Friday, and the shockwaves have rippled around the world.

For some, thousands of miles away, the ripple that reached them simply prompted a change of Facebook profile picture.

For those closer to the attack, it has brought the threat of terrorism into their city, their neighbourhood, and their families.

When I experience grief or sorrow, I go back to my Irish roots.

W.B. Yeats has been one such comfort and I looked for something of his to soothe my spirit after the terrors of Friday night’s attack on Paris. I remembered a line of his:

too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

There are many articles being written about the attack by those who are more qualified to speak on matters of terrorism and world politics and so I am not adding my voice to theirs.

There are articles talking about Paris itself and having only been a tourist there I cannot speak for them either.

I am only qualified to add my voice as a human, thousands of miles away, who was horrified and heartbroken at the pain that other humans were experiencing.

I was at work when I found out. Everyone was working in that dawdling way you do when it’s 4 PM on a Friday and you are watching the clock.

All of a sudden, I heard a strangled yell from my boss’s office door.

‘Paris,’ “he said,” ‘Search Paris now.’

He had friends staying in the city at the time.

I heard a flurry of typing from the surrounding offices and then a hush fell over the halls.

Work was forgotten as people ran from room to room, trying to find the most up to date information.

When Facebook launched the Safety Check (as they had done for natural disasters in the past), we were all glued to our phones, watching the check marks appear.

There are quite a few of us European ex-pats in my office, including a few from France, and it was not surprising to me that everyone knew somebody who needed to ‘check in’.

When I left the building, however, it felt as though nothing had happened.

As I walked through the busy paths, I expected to hear it in snatches of conversation but there was nothing.

I ran to my car and started flipping through radio stations, trying to find the news, cursing myself for having pre-set all my stations to rap, until I finally found the public radio station.

They were talking about it but, like everyone in my office, it seemed as though they were just reading the Google search results.

Nobody knew what was happening, how many had been killed.

Even the order of events seemed confused.

They were stalling, waiting for their French correspondent to wake up.

He eventually came on the air, bleary and stressed, and said he didn’t have any more information than we did.

The segment was over and the news moved on.

Eiffel Tower, Paris
Too many things occuring for even a big heart to hold: Isabel watched events unfold in Paris from LA (image: Lorna Keane/Facebook)


I came home and scrolled through social media sites.

All my European contacts were sending out messages, kind words, prayers for Paris.

All my American friends were out for Happy Hour.

Gradually, the news began to seep through and I watched in real time as Los Angeles heard what happened.

Reactions ranged from helpless worry to distant sympathy and a few were indifferent.

A couple of them were angry that the media only focused on Paris because it’s “Western,” and “nobody in Beirut got a hashtag.”

I agree in principle, but my point is this: caring is not a competition.

Nobody wins at it. Someone standing with Paris doesn’t mean they tacitly approve of the attack in Beirut, or even its lack of media coverage.

Our task as humans is to care for one another, not to insult people who you think might be doing it “wrong.” It’s not our jobs to tell them how.

I woke to see lots of responses in my social networks that said “Pray for Paris,” but almost as many saying “Prayer does nothing! If you want to help Paris, do something tangible.”

I refuse to enter into religious debates on the internet but I will say this: 24 hours after a city was attacked and peoples’ lives were cracked open may not be the time for a debate on the efficacy of prayer.

Allow people to display grief and solidarity in the best way that they know how, rather than invalidating the medium they chose to use.

Everyone is muddling along as best they can.

Too many things are occurring for even a big heart to hold.

One thought on “Caring is not a competition: the LA view on the Paris tragedy

  • November 16, 2015 at 7:45 pm

    My impression of the reaction here is that there’s a blood lust. Whilst most civilized people calmly assess things and try to de-escalate a situation. Many here escalate, almost with an enjoyment of confrontation. There’s a famous quote from the 1800’s:

    “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without knowing civilization.”

    That’s a little harsh of me. Not everybody is that way inclined but the sentiment seems to be bubbling to the surface. Though, perhaps I am just disillusioned to the point that it’s what I zero in on.


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