"Congratulations on your new dog," I said to my son over the phone. I smiled when I heard a muffled groan from his end. He hadn't wanted a dog, but his wife had said to him, "You don't live here, and I'm getting a dog." And like me years before, he had no response to that.
Of course, he does live there, but he travels often for work, sometimes being on the road for weeks at a time. He reached Platinum Status in one month after a marathon stay of 23 days at a famous hotel chain. The peace and safety of our wives and family are foremost in our thoughts, although I still resent our dog's presumption that she belongs in my bed when I am not there.
I stopped chuckling, abruptly remembering the particularly nasty incident that had brought this about. The manager of the small apartment complex in Ocean Springs where they live had been savagely beaten and assaulted in her office in broad daylight. I had stopped in the office just two days before the assault to ask about a waiting list for a three-bedroom apartment. Her daughter is 12, a petite blonde with a sassy mouth who is trying to wear clothes much too old for her. She had become fast friends with my 12-year-old for the couple of weeks we stayed with my son in their apartment. This was a little too personal to be just another statistic.
As I waited to board my flight back to France, where I currently live, it occurred to me that there had been one violent incident after another that was too personal to me during the time I had been in the U.S. over the summer.
The first was the father of the professional golfer Bill Hurley, also called Bill Hurley, who committed suicide after disappearing from his family. His son had appealed for help on national television in locating his father, followed by the good news that he had been found and was apparently doing well, then followed by the news that he had died. I had only met Bill a few times many years ago, as he was a good friend of a lifelong friend of mine. I remember his stories as a police officer and especially about the search for John Wayne Bobbitt's severed penis.
The shooting in Virginia on live TV of a reporter and her cameraman by a former colleague, who also wounded the person they were interviewing, was ghastly. The shooter subsequently killed himself, leaving a body count of three dead and one wounded.
My connection with this shooting became clear a few days later while reading the blog of a young woman I know who works for Campus Crusade for Christ at Virginia Tech (she had been a student there when a lone gunman killed 33 people and then himself). She related how the cameraman had been a member of CRU when he was a student and talked about him and the brokenness of this world.
The most recent violence for me just before leaving for France were the murders in Gautier and at Delta State University, again with the gunman committing suicide as the police closed in. I've been on the Delta State campus many times for the Delta Council's annual meeting and catfish cookout, for soccer games and to buy Fighting Okra T-shirts for friends. Although I did not know any of the people involved, it felt like I did, as it was so close to home.
After weeks in the U.S. visiting friends, relatives and attending to some business (paying taxes), I was ready to return to France, and I realized that one of the reasons was this relentless violence. It is almost like being under siege, not by foreign terrorists, but by our own people. France is, of course, not without its share of violence.
The Charlie Hebdo attack, gruesomely fresh in our minds, is a prime example, but there seems to be less of the very personal violence that we have here in the U.S.
Don't get me wrong: I'm in France for a season, not the duration. America is my home, and I love it. France has a suffocating bureaucracy, an impossible language, less of an entrepreneurial spirt, and they are much further along the socialist continuum, which makes me uncomfortable.
But, and sadly, I feel physically safer in France, with its baguette-eating, cigarette-smoking, non-church-going, slightly rude and less social population than with gun-toting, Bible-thumping Americans.
Something for discussion.
Richard is a visiting scientist at the University of Strasbourg in Strasbourg, France. He lives there with his wife of 31 years and their youngest daughter, studying the movement of water and agricultural chemicals off of a vineyard, as well as tasting the products from the vineyard.