Letter to My Two Sons – November 13th, 2015

[this is a little bit raw… on purpose.]

My sons,

You are just 6 and 3, and so you don’t know what happened tonight. A group of suicide bombers killed 150 people in Paris, your father’s hometown. The feeling in my gut today is much like the one I felt on that Tuesday in September 2001, as I tried to get to my office in TriBeCa, shell-shocked people on the street walking past me, thousands of dead in the rubble. Profound sadness, deep anger, frustration, and powerlessness. And this nagging feeling that one of the victims could, under slightly different circumstances, have been me or… you.

That day in 2001, I got to the office just a few blocks north of the towers, just an hour or two after they’d collapsed. I logged into one of our web servers, found an unused IP address (that’s how we did it back then, kids), and built a manual list of “people I know are safe in NYC” (a poor man’s Facebook Safety Check). I frantically emailed friends and built up the list. The URL went around to a few dozen people. A few friends and friends of friends found each other and, hopefully, a small measure of relief. In retrospect, I realize I was coping by doing the only thing I knew how to do: contribute a small positive on a day of pure horror. I don’t mean to praise myself, I simply did what all decent people did that day: help any way I knew how. I knew HTML and web servers, and so that’s what I did.

Much will be written about today, November 13th 2015. Extremists on the right will embrace confirmation bias and recommend closing borders, arming the public, and generally distrusting brown people. Extremists on the left will also embrace confirmation bias and lay the blame entirely on the West’s foreign policy.

To be honest, I don’t really know what to think. Well, no, that’s not quite true: I think those extremists on the right (including many presidential candidates today) are idiots, maniacs, and shouldn’t be allowed within spitting distance of the seat of power. They stoke the fires of retaliation and intolerance, feeding on fear to push their agenda, the furthest thing from democracy and freedom. So yeah, I guess on some level, I do know what to think.

That said… might it help to fight at the source those who committed these awful acts so they don’t get the chance to do it again? Maybe. On the flip side, did we do things that others saw as acts of aggression, for which they then retaliated? Maybe that’s part of it. Are there suicidal/homicidal maniacs who will use anything as an excuse to hurt innocents? Probably. I don’t really know for sure.

So what do we do?

If there is one thing I hope to teach you, it is this: you will not always be safe. It kills me to say this, because I am biologically wired to protect you, and yet… You shouldn’t live your life seeking safety at all costs. You shouldn’t compromise your own freedom because madmen took lives, even if it’s dozens, hundreds or thousands. You shouldn’t compromise your own freedom the second, third, and fourth time something terrible happens, either.

What you can do is choose to be one of those people who help. One of those people who make the world better, in small or big ways. You will live through many more terror attacks, stupid governments, unnecessary wars. The human condition is, in many ways, heartbreaking. You cannot make the heartbreak go away. But you can choose to be a positive force. You can choose to be a helper. Even if it’s something as small as writing a bit of HTML by hand on a warm Tuesday in September, tears streaming down your face, because it’s the only thing you know how to do and because maybe, maybe, it will help one person.