Our family holiday vacation was booked the day before the merciless attacks on Paris last Friday evening. We excitedly planned on spending a once-in-a-lifetime Christmas in the welcoming, beautiful and timeless City of Light--Paris.
Bad timing indeed.
Needless to say, we were immediately showered with tweets, IM's and e-mails from concerned family and friends urging us to reconsider or change our plans in light of the shockingly horrific events.
Clearly, there are no words to express our deep regret and sorrow to all the victims and their loved ones, or our solidarity for the people of France in these days of mourning. Just as there are equally no words to express the depth of our moral outrage over the barbaric atrocity itself or for those soulless bloodthirsty subhumans that perpetrated those crimes against humanity. It is a mind-bending and emotionally numbing experience for all.
The natural human reaction to any heightened sense of danger is to fight or flight, we understand that. But do we listen to our gut or our head? Terrorism is designed to produce gut-check overreactions--in governments and people. However, my family and I will not panic willy-nilly and run and hide. We are not fearless, but rather cautiously optimistic, and will not change our plans fully intending to go to Paris. We are, after all, Americans from the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Some less rational thinking souls or knee-jerk reactionaries will call this foolish, others nuts; while some will understand our collective choice. Because at the end of the discussion, there are both factual, objective reasons for continuing with our plans, as well as critical psychological and emotional ones.
First the facts: Sadly, among the 129 dead, one American was killed in the terrorist attack. Her name was Nohemi Gonzalez, a smart and beautiful 23-year-old Californian college student studying abroad. Terrible. Sad.
But the fact is, according to the US State Department, that Nohemi is one of 278 Americans killed in overseas terrorist attacks over the last decade. Too many to be sure, but that is a decade's worth of fatalities that includes scores of occupation-inspired IED killings in Iraq and Afghanistan. The real risk of an American tourist being killed by a terrorist is truly small; as in a lot smaller than the 1-in-5 million chance of being struck by lightning small. But it happens; and people do win the lottery too!
No one should have to die before the natural order of things, but needless to say these Americans traveling abroad terrorism deaths pale in relative comparison to 83 Americans killed daily by guns over the last decade, according to the CDC. Let alone the 375 Americans killed in mass shootings or the 1,000 citizens killed by police in the line of duty...so far this year! Finally, the DOJ reports that, "More Americans have died at the hands of domestic terror than the international terror groups."
It makes you wonder whether or not it is safer to travel abroad than it is to stay at home? There is indeed a difference between fear and risk, and one should never mistake headlines for trend lines.
Personally, I am today conflicted as to whether the Paris horror was either a one-off event or the new normal that we are sadly entering. Only time will tell. But, objectively speaking, I can only reason that although there may in fact be follow-up acts of terrorism in Paris or other cities by emboldened ideological-driven mass murderers but the chances of it actually effecting my family personally are utterly remote. In fact, I reason that another event is actually less likely to occur now because there are fewer terrorists on the streets living and walking than there were before the attack because predictably bad guys get arrested, shot or kill themselves. Added to the fact that Paris, and all of Europe, is on higher alert, armed and ready for any new attack; that again makes the odds of one occurring less likely. Paris will be no less safe tomorrow than it was last Thursday before the nihilist monsters attacked.
Now onto the real issue among family and friends, the slippery emotional issue of fear. Of course they are worried about us. They are scared.
The illusion of perfect safety is all around us. Anything can happen at any time, no one is every truly safe. Life-changing accidents occur with numbing regularity--over 350 unintentional injury deaths a day in America. There are over 10,000 traffic accidents a day; yet we still drive. The fact is, that we are never really safe and we simply cannot protect ourselves completely in a free and open society from those willing to commit suicide for a cause. Yet we must live our lives, fully and boldly.
Terrorism is a reality in our 21st century lives. It has actually been around for decades, both home grown and internationally inspired terrorism. America has never wavered, and we are a proud people who have chosen to live our lives freely openly. Again, never mistake headlines for trend lines.
So no, we will not cower to terrorists now. We will not be victims controlled by fear. That is exactly what they want us to do. Nor will we curtail our free and open lives. That is also exactly what they want us to do. In the end, we feel as though we have kept our less noble emotions in check while rationally weighing the risks with the many enriching benefits of travel...and we will get on with our free and open lives.
Of course we will be smart. Of course we will keep a wary eye on our situation. And of course as loving parents we will hold onto our children's hands a little more often, and maybe a little tighter.
In the end, each and everyone one us must look in the mirror and decide for ourselves how much risk is too much risk. If you are the type that would be in a constant state of fear, stay home. I have taught my children not to be like this, and to boldly explore the world and meet as many people as possible.
For us, we will go to Paris. We will try to enjoy ourselves amongst the festively-lit streets and colorful Christmas markets; we will shop and eat chocolate; we will attend Notre Dame's midnight mass ceremonies and visit other equally famous must-see sites and museums; and we will enjoy many tasty meals in lively Parisian eateries. Mostly though, we will enjoy some well-deserved family time bonding and creating lasting new memories. That is what the best of travel offers.
Thirty-two million people from around the world will visit Paris this year, add four more.