Yes, I vacationed in Paris

Already the snideness has begun.

“We get it. You vacationed in Paris.” “Suddenly everybody is French.”

Some among us have taken to social media to decry those who express their shock over the Notre-Dame fire by sharing tourist photos or other memories of personal visits to the great cathedral.

Also inevitable in the coming days is the sentiment that seems always to rise after tragic events occur in the so-called West. After attacks in Barcelona, Madrid, London, Nice and Berlin — and the nonstop news coverage and furor that followed them — critics complained that the death tolls from those incidents were almost everyday occurrences in Afghanistan, Iraq or Syria. “Where’s the uproar about that?” they asked. And it’s always a fair question.

Are we Americans oblivious to the bloodshed and other horrors of life in the Middle East or other dangerous parts of the world? If we pay any attention at all to the news we surely aren’t. But is it wrong not to dwell on those car-bombings and suicide attacks that are, indeed, everyday affairs? Is it wrong to feel a deeper connection with places we’ve experienced firsthand? Does it make us evil to grieve more over the loss of a monument we’ve seen than of one we haven’t? Does it matter, geography aside, it the people involved are more like ourselves than not?

If a terrible disaster had befallen the Taj Mahal yesterday instead of a church I’ve visited a half dozen times, or Machu Picchu or the Sphinx or Angkor Wat, would I feel shock and sadness? Of course I would. But would I spend as much time doing so, or feel the pangs of loss as intensely as I do toward Notre-Dame? No.

I wonder, if the “Big whoop — you had a vacation there” people were to go through the obituaries in today’s paper and read them one-by-one, would they feel the same sadness over each death as at the past loss of a loved one? I doubt it. But is that wrong? Of course not.

Our connectedness to a place or person — whether from geography, culture or any of a dozen other factors — bears on our emotions around it. And I’d suggest respectfully to the sourpusses to let people express their shock and grief however they want.

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