I used to lie in bed as a child and listen to the sky as I fell asleep.
I worried about a lot of things back then, kid things mostly, but other things as well.
For some kids, bedtime is when they feel their safest, all tucked, snug and drowsy. For me it was when I felt my most singular, my most abandoned.
I would run through the script from my day. I would write the script to my future.
That's when I would entertain my darkest of thoughts.
I was scared my parents would die.
I was afraid my sisters would get sick.
I was frightened the Soviets would bomb us in the middle of the night.
So I said prayers for my family.
And I listened to the sky.
For years, I listened to the sky, sure that destruction would come from that direction.
On Sept. 11, 2001, it happened. When my boyfriend woke me up to tell me, I got up and ran out of my apartment ... to look at the sky.
As if the answers would be there.
That night, though, there was finally something to hear.
The sound of drones or fighter jets, I can't remember which, and I'm not sure I ever really knew to begin with, would stay with us in Maryland for a year at least. Every day. Every night. A persistent hum. A dull roar. A presence that said "Don't panic" and "You should absolutely panic" at the same time. And yet a comfort.
In 2001, we did not have Facebook.
Instead of changing profile pictures to show solidarity, towns across the country could only drape themselves in American flags.
For weeks, I sobbed on the drive to work and from work as I passed by businesses and homes whose displays weren't so much acts of patriotism to me as they were signs that this happened to other people, too.
That none of us was alone in this.
We were all attacked. We were all in pain. We would all survive.
When a large-scale act of terrorism like Sept. 11 happens, like in Boston, like in France, like in places we have been to or in places where we know people, we feel gut-punched.
We feel sickened and sad. Confused and hopeless.
Then we make it about ourselves.
"My cousin was working in midtown that day."
"Oh my gosh. I was at the marathon four years ago!"
"Paris! No! I'm obsessed with macarons."
As far as I know, no one has actually been so tone deaf as to mourn a terrorist attack through their favorite foods, but the connections people cite on social media sometimes feel just as irrelevant, just as searching and threadlike.
Any little link will do.
At first it seems self-centered, like a quintessential Facebook move.
Then it seems like a pre-written way to respond to mass violence. We say the same things. We do the same things. The same things keep happening. Ever thus.
What does a transparency of the French flag and pictures of the Eiffel tower fix? What does your story about walking the streets of Paris in 2008 add to the narrative?
Nothing, as far as I can tell. No terrorists change careers. No unbeating hearts get reanimated. No world leaders suddenly have the answer on how to end extremism.
But there is that one thing.
We don't feel alone.
Solidarity fixes us. It fills in our broken places, though temporarily. It allows us to express our fears, our beliefs, our strength, all at once.
It can give us an outlet for the feelings that arise when we consider the future and the grim state of affairs that terrorism creates.
It can keep us from lying in bed and listening to that sky.