Thursday, January 8, 2015

This is What Terrorism Does



Terrorism wins when it makes us afraid. Afraid to travel, afraid to speak, afraid to live our lives. That is what terrorism does.

Sometimes it wins.

I was sitting in the interior waiting room of my doctor's office yesterday after hearing the news of the attack on the Paris office of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo. There was no doubt  it was an act of terror, a reaction to the publication's cartoons lampooning Islamist extremists.

As I waited for my eyes to be dilated fully, I scrolled through the news and posts about the attack on my phone, shaking my head in disgust as my vision increasingly blurred.

The room was filled with other patients of various ages, shapes and sizes waiting, like me, to see their doctors. The Ellen show was on a TV in the corner. Some of us shared a laugh or two though none of us related to each other directly.

I watched as a gray-haired couple was called away only to be replaced by an almost identical-looking gray-haired couple. Then they were called away.

I had a long wait. Time to people-watch. Time to think.

A single man took one of their seats to the left of the TV. And then another man breezed in, middle aged, maybe 60, and sat beside the TV. He was carrying a gift bag with some festive ribbons on it. Was it for Christmas? New Year's? Was it for him, for someone else?

I wondered why he was carrying that bag, so many days after the holidays, as it looked more like a holiday gift than any other occasion. But who knew.

Then he was quickly called into a room and left the bag where he'd put it by his feet moments earlier.

I couldn't help but wonder why he left it. It seemed very intentional. I know these rooms well in this doctor's office. They are not cramped. There is plenty of space.

I heard his name. I saw what he looked like. I had no idea what his background might be. Still, my thoughts persisted: Who leaves a bag like that behind?

I didn't like it. And the more I stared at that bag, and in the wake of the attack that morning, my mind turned to bad thoughts.

I started having fantasies of a bomb going off. Why, though? But terror often is random. It could be about losing a job. Religion. Whatever.

I stared at the bag and thought if it exploded, would we all be killed? Maimed? Would it blow out the side of the building? I turned my face — just in case. I wanted to go to the desk and tell someone that this bag was unattended.

I looked at the older woman in the wheelchair facing the bag. And the man on his phone a chair away. And the woman next to me whom I'd exchanged a smile with in the first waiting room.

Why would anyone want to harm us? Kill us?

I was a little embarrassed at myself for having these "crazy" thoughts. I was irritated at the man for leaving the bag. And I could not stop thinking bad thoughts because these things happen when you least expect them. That is how it typically works.

And then the man returned, whisked up his bag, and left.

I was relieved but also troubled. Not that those thoughts crossed my mind at all. I suppose that is somewhat normal these days.

But I was troubled that I thought so much about that bag, wasting my energy worried about something bad happening when it was so unlikely.

I could have closed my eyes and been peaceful. Meditated. Read my book. 

Instead I filled my mind with horror.

A pretty little gift bag. Probably meant to bring someone joy.

And that is what terrorism does.