I wrote this one year ago, exactly one month before what was going to be Josephine (my daughter)’s birthday.
I don’t post it for any other reason than my own reflection on a truly horrific day at work and I needed to write it more than you need to read it.
Norwegian Pearl, somewhere in the Caribbean Ocean
Heading for Miami
14 November 2015
I consider myself a man. I try to be all the things a Man should be. Honest in emotions and clear in heart. Direct in communication and nuanced in world view. Free from prejudice and open to change. Thoughtful and compassionate. Warm and loving. Able to apologise and quick to forgive. Idealistic to a fault, yet able to bend for the complexities of the human condition.
I considered myself a Strong Man.
Yet I am now sitting here in the middle of the Caribbean Ocean on a cruise ship heading back to Miami after a terrible tragedy occurred two nights ago and the atrocities of Paris ticked in on my newsfeed all day yesterday – And my reaction is only intense fear and sorrow. Gone is my resolve. My nuanced world views. My perspective.
When the news about the poor girl that went overboard here on the cruise ship hit us, I was filled with self righteous gusto. “If only I had witnessed her going over, I would have jumped in and saved her – like a real Man.” I thought.
I scoured the internet for my goto crutch: Facts.
“Under these conditions she can probably survive approximately 6 hours, based on a similar accident on the QE2 some years back when a chef went overboard.”
“About 12 years ago, I read, a cargo ship lost a crew member in the Indian Ocean and even with the colossal 1 hour braking time of this ship, it managed to calculate the currents and winds and navigate right back to the person and fish him out – cold, but safe.”
But as the hours came and went and even with the formidable rescue operation that we all witnessed from the balcony, the facts started working against this poor soul. Someones daughter – out there in the endless ocean. We stared into the deepest dark blue and followed the searchlights of all the vessels that came out of nowhere to help. Like we, by some Hollywood-esque miracle would see with our own eyes, something that the trained professionals had missed. I then realised that the 6th hour had come.. and all too quickly gone.
Reality is a cruel and heartless teacher.
I started lashing out at the innocent party goers aboard this ship. Started hating on some of the more unfortunate kids and their seemingly endless disdain for this person, this human being that messed up their party and ruined their high. Someones daughter. I blamed them for this feeling I had brewing in my belly – I wanted it to be their fault. Raged at the insensitive comments, the inevitable poor taste tweets that started filling up the Twittersphere. In a bid for what I believed to be my moral obligation to stand up for decency and respectfulness, I decided to fight back and started tweeting facts. Things that were actually happening and not rumours, rampant speculation or hate. ‘A way to drown out the trolls,’ I thought to myself as I polished my halo and propped up my ego. A way to process the sadness and helpnessness I felt – like Twitter was some sort of twisted therapeutic tool. I wanted the story of what happened to be a respectful, fact based story regardless of whether she fell or jumped, was drunk or sober, a party girl or a nun. She was someones daughter, for goodness’ sake.
Waking up yesterday, it was announced that the ship was going to leave the search (now classified as a recovery operation) to the US Coast Guard and head back to Miami. The promoters had decided, wisely, to start shows again while we make our way back to port at reduced speed. The artists were clearly having a rough time with this sad incident, but they also wanted the opportunity to show some love and respect. And the show, as we all know, must go on.
10 minutes before we start setting up stage for our show, my wife texts me that there is shootings ongoing at a show in Paris. The band is Eagles Of Death Metal and apparently there are already fatalities. And while I calmly, but robotically, put things on top of other things and plugs into holes, start computers and go “1-2-1-2” into microphones, the ferocity and full scope of the horror that is unfolding at the legendary venue in Paris ticks into my newsfeed like play-by-play tweets from the devil about his latest idea.
We play – Well.
I don’t really remember packing up that clearly – I think I packed everything in the right box, but it’s a bit of a blur.
A rock show. The Bataclan.
These are my people.
They are me and I am them.
The Man in me starts firing on all adrenaline and testosterone cylinders: ‘If only I had been there, I would have wrestled the AK-47 from a terrorist, shot the others and been heroically flesh wounded and hailed as a hero in my time’ my brain thinks. All men know this little John McClane voice in their heads – it’s the same voice that makes us think that we can jump that gorge, climb that mountain or get with that hot girl in spite of all evidence to the contrary.
But the fact is this: If I had been there I would have been lying on the floor. Dead.
That is the statistical probability. In spite of action film logic, no heroism outruns 4 guys with AK-47s.
The Man in me is convinced that he can make a difference wherever he goes. The Man in me thinks that I can just show up somewhere and instantly make that place better. But another version of that man is bleeding out on the floor behind the mixing desk at a venue in Paris. Someone who probably looks like me – in a black t-shirt and a backstage pass tied to his belt (because only noobs carry their passes around their necks) probably spent his last seconds thinking about how to get out of this situation.
The floor at the Bataclan is now littered with people that will not put the keys in their front doors anymore. Countless parents are waiting for a call that will not come or a “I’m home!” that is not going to happen. Someones daughters and sons.
For the first time in my life I am afraid of turning my back to the emergency exits.
For the first time in my life I cannot see a safe way forward.
I’ve been to places in the world that are considered dangerous, but it always felt like a calculated risk. I cannot begin to calculate this risk, because this is too close to home.
You can call me a hypocrite all you want – I am not and have never been blind or insensitive to the horror and violence that puts permanent scars our planet every day, like chicken pox on a small child. I am aware of the atrocities that are committed every day in the name of countless “One True God”(s), profit, territory, revenge or political power. I understand that the concert, a gathering of people, was always a juicy target for those who wish to prey on the weak or punish the infidels. But deep in my heart I always tried to tell myself that at least music had universal appeal and maybe even the lost souls in IS liked to tap toes to a rock song.
Now I battle, like probably every other rational thinker in the world, with the conflicting emotions of love, anger, intellectual reasoning, compassion and balls-out primal hate. But The Strong Man has gone – never to return. Strength is now going to be a useless tool that I will hang in the garage next to the flathead screwdriver – a tool of days gone by. Stuck on a boat in the middle of the ocean and surrounded by strangers, I have but one thought in my head:
I want to go home.
I want to be with my budding family.
My strength evaporated as the Man in me gave way to a stronger force in my heart/brain-combo: The Family Man. The only tool I can now use is Love. The only Weapon I have in my possession is love.
In the belly of my beloved wife is the reason that my focus has changed.