As much of the religious world- including millions of Jews and Christians- enter their most holy of weeks, we have been forced to witness a rash of terror attacks across Europe and the Middle East.
I am almost jaded by the endless news reports of yet another attack on innocent civilians. A few weeks ago it was London. Then the car attack in Stockholm. Then the terrible bombings of churches on Palm Sunday in Egypt.
I'm sure there are a few in the last week I'm forgetting; that's how bad it's gotten.
And that's not to mention the horrendous attacks of the last few years. They are becoming such a regularity, that trying to cite them in an article about terrorism becomes a job in and of itself. I remember the Paris hostage attack, the numerous bombings in Turkey, the bombing in Belgium, the car attack in Berlin, the car attack in Nice.
Of course, there was the attack in San Bernardino, CA. The shooting in Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. The car and knife attack at Ohio State. And the shooting in Fort Lauderdale airport.
And that's not to mention the ones further back in our memory, like the Boston Marathon bombing and of course, 9-11.
Am I forgetting a few? Yep.
I've been reluctant to talk about these terrorist attacks, because frankly, there are so many. Before I can finish this article and get it to the website, there might be another one. I don't say that sarcastically; it's a terrible and painful reality.
I also don't like to write about terrorism, because unless you're directly affected by it, most words seem empty and pedantic. What can I say that can really bring light to the issue? Can a single person address this growing epidemic in any way that can positively impact the situation?
But time and again we are forced to witness these tableaus of horror, where our regular lives are warped and distorted by unexpected death. Ultimately, we have to address it, one way or another.
It's getting so bad, though, most of us are desensitized to it all; we might even be quick to forget the frequency of radical assholes who act to steal innocent lives. We might think it's a regular part of modern life and shuffle it to a forgotten part of our brain.
Until it hits us personally.
But we have to remember that terrorism is not normal. It should not be considered a "regular" part of anyone's life, no matter how often it occurs. The taking of innocent lives through sudden acts of violence is an aberration; it has no part in modern, civilized society.
Yet it keeps happening.
Once upon a time, regular acts of terrorism were relegated to strange and foreign parts of the world, like the Middle East or Asia. Regions of the world that seemed unstable to begin with (to us detached Westerners, that is), so if a few radical maniacs blew up a bus now and again, that seemed like a normal part of their daily routine. Who was to question it?
Yet now it's happening in traditionally stable parts of the world, including such civilized countries as England, Sweden, and France (not to mention far too often in the United States).
We can bicker endlessly on why this seems to be a growing trend in the West. You can argue that the September 11th attacks opened the door to this new age of terrorism. Some experts might say this problem had been growing long before 2001, and the West's continued ignorance allowed terrorists to make inroads.
You might even say that the recent policies of leaders like Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and others opened a wide, new door to terrorism, both because of the welcoming of huge numbers of migrants into their countries and their lax attitude towards fighting terrorism.
If you're on the side of radical, Islamic terrorism, you'd say these days were inevitable and in fact, they will only get worse as the wrath of jihadists continues to grow.
Regardless of the reasons (obviously that last one is patently false), we cannot escape the reality that the ideology that is fueling this kind of terrorism is spreading like a cancer. Whether it's ISIS or any number of lone wolves inspired by their dogma, there are people around the world turning radical every day and hatching schemes to take lives.
And while we'd like to stick our heads in the sand and just ignore it, the fact remains we have a certain measure of responsibility in keeping ourselves and our neighbors safe.
But what is that responsibility? In the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks, a common catchphrase in New York was, "If you see something, say something." That meant New Yorkers (including myself) were required to report any suspicious activity going on around them, especially in heavily-populated areas like the subway and major tourist spots.
While radical left-wingers might claim this could lead to profiling, it did help thwart several terrorist attempts.
But is this the right answer? To go around, eyeing everyone with fear and suspicion? And what if you live in a sleepy town, far removed from the daily pressures of a city like New York? Perhaps rarely, if ever, are you confronted with such a problem as terrorism.
The answer, of course, is not to see every person you meet as a potential enemy, nor to worry that every odd sight will lead to an attack. Paranoia does not make people safer; in fact, it does the opposite.
However, even if you live outside a major city, you cannot lull yourself into thinking you cannot be affected.
Perhaps there is a balance between apathy and paranoia. But it might require a certain amount of boldness, a certain amount of guts. A certain amount of that thing called bravery.
Hundreds of lives were saved by a quick-thinking security van driver who drove his van directly into the path of the rampaging lorry, forcing the terrorist to lose control and crash.
Heroic Santiago Cueva, 27, was sitting in his van outside the Åhlens department store in Stockholm on Friday when he saw the hijacked lorry racing down the street, mowing down everything in its path...
In an act of astonishing bravery, Mr. Cueva accelerated his van directly into the path of the speeding lorry...
As a result, the lorry was unable to continue its murderous route and was forced to veer headlong into the department store, where it came to a stop and caught fire. (via Daily Mail)
Santiago Cueva did not wake up that Friday morning, thinking he was going to have to thwart a terrorist attack. Yet when the unthinkable happened, he did not hesitate to put his life- and his livelihood- in danger, in the hopes of saving others.
Often we hear about the selfless acts of everyday people when faced with extraordinary circumstances. The quick actions of these people can mean the difference between life or death. Whether it's driving a car into an oncoming juggernaut, or stopping to help a wounded victim, the actions of unassuming bystanders can make all the difference.
What can we learn from Cueva's actions in Stockholm? Chances are (hopefully) we will never have to face the horrors of a terrorist attack. We might never have to be forced to decide what to do when a maniac is using a truck to mow down innocent victims, having to face our own possible deaths.
But we can be prepared. We can be honest about the world around us and be ready, should it come to it, to respond in a moment of crisis.
That doesn't mean you should be ready to drive your car into another car. Always practice safe driving, friends (and use your blinker, for crying out loud!). But simple steps in our daily lives can mean a world of difference.
You can make sure your car is equipped with useful resources like a first aid kit or blanket. You can brush up on basic first aid practices like CPR. You can better familiarize yourself with your city and town; know the best ways to the hospital or police station. Learning a few emergency response tactics can help; when everyone else is panicking, you can step in and provide calm leadership until the authorities arrive.
Now, I'm not saying you should become some sort of survivalist, expecting the very worst and carrying a bug out bag with you wherever you go. Nor should you put yourself needlessly at risk in dangerous situations (nor should you go out and buy a gun if you're the last person in the world gifted enough to use one). But little measures and preparation can make a big difference, should a crisis arise. And as my grandma used to say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Most of us, these days, are already equipped with tools to help, most importantly a cell phone. But instead of snapping pictures of the disaster for Instagram, we need to use it to call for help.
More than just having a few tools at hand, we need to equip ourselves with the right attitude. We need to exercise a certain amount of conscientious behavior towards our fellow man, a willingness to help those in need. We need to learn how to overcome fear in moments of paralyzing crisis.
Other ways we can respond to this tide of terrorism is to work against it. One of the major goals of terrorists is to plunge well-meaning people into fear and chaos. They want you to view your Muslim neighbors with suspicion. They want you to consider all migrants or Middle Easterners a threat. Why? So that the hate generated by our fear will force them to join the terrorist cause- or else be subjected to unjustified discrimination.
But if we choose to respect our neighbors, despite our differences, and treat them with the same consideration we'd like them to give us- we prevent fear from taking root. Terrorists aren't everywhere, but their stain can afflict all corners of the earth if we let it.
Perhaps in the coming years, the leaders of the world will wipe out ISIS, clean up the Middle East, and bring an end to the ongoing war against terrorism. Perhaps not. Perhaps the only solution will come when the people of the world take ownership of their societies, put aside deeply-rooted fears and worries, and prove to our enemies that we will not be taken hostage by terror.
Perhaps that is, ultimately, the only solution that works.