Tim Wood | March 19, 2015 4:38 PM ET
A Day When Social Media Cut Through the Grief
The images were startling. It was four days before Christmas, but yet I remember being transfixed to the TV screen. I couldn’t get enough and yet, all we were watching was the same footage play over and over again.
I had never heard of Lockerbie, Scotland before Dec. 21, 1988. I was 15 and living in South Portland, Maine. CNN was still an infant, so I remember sitting around our far-from-flat-screen TV at 6:30 p.m. each night, hoping for good news about victims.
I daydreamed about being a pilot and marveled at the magic of flight … until that day. A plane was ripped from the sky that day, Pan Am Flight 103, destroyed by a terrorist bomb. All 243 passengers and 16 crew on board were dead, and 11 more people on the ground in Lockerbie were killed by the falling debris.
The idea that a plane was suddenly being used as a weapon hardened me and put a fear of flying in me that was hard to shake.
I’d venture to say I had a more worldly view than most of my high school classmates, mostly because of a crush. Another Mainer, Samantha Smith, had become the most famous 11-year-old in the world in 1983 after writing a letter to Soviet Premier Yuri Andopov, wondering why Russia and the U.S. couldn’t get along.
Her letter started a movement, she became a world peace ambassador, traveling to Moscow and showing the world we weren’t all that different after all.
Smith and her father died in August 1985 in a small plane crash in Maine. Her death devastated me, but the cause of death didn’t deter me from flying. It was an accident. I could process an accident. I was actually in the middle of fundraising to be part of a Smith Foundation student ambassador trip to Russia as the horror of Lockerbie played out in 1988.
All I remember was the fear when I watched what had happened in Scotland. My world suddenly felt small again. I remember having no place to share that feeling, no sense of community. No way to express my grief and my prayers for the people of Scotland, no way to shed that dread and angst that this event thousands of miles away had created inside me.
It all came flooding back over the last 24 hours, as word of the Bardo National Museum attacks spread worldwide.
We’ve seen our fair share of terror since Lockerbie. There are plenty who want us to feel more isolated than ever.
What struck me most today was just how empowered we are to fight that isolation.
There are plenty of downsides to social media. The instant criticism, the venomous hate shown at times as news plays out, it turns me off. But to see the outpouring of support and prayers for the people of Tunisia today, it was equally inspiring.
Just as a campaign quickly sprung up after the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, so too did a social media campaign here.
I can tell you vociferously that these are the moments more than ever that we need to keep traveling, to keep dreaming and to push to be one world and embrace our far-away neighbors.
But you’re doing it on your own. The #JeSuisBardo hashtag is already loud, as world citizens promise to travel to Tunisia this summer, to not be scared and isolated by the apparent act of terror in Tunis. To fight back through building an online community of strangers united and resolving to not be frightened off by these cowardly acts.
It makes me proud to see, and at the same time, makes me a bit envious that I didn’t have such a tool in 1988.
I went on that tour of Russia, I fought through my fears with the help of my family and friends but it took time to work through the emotions. Today, I watched online as a lot of young people instantly shed that fear with camaraderie.
It is a pathetic part of the world today that these terrorist acts repeat themselves. But unlike Lockerbie, the rise of social media will insure that travelers share their fears and inspire others to push through the terror.
The more we keep traveling forward, the less emotional ammunition these terrorists have.
It’s the kind of instant activism that would make Samantha Smith proud. We shrink the borders and the boundaries that hold us back with every Tweet of support.
The images are still startling. There is still plenty of grief here. But in communicating, in sharing, we empower each other and cower to the terrorists less and less. And as a result, we’ll hopefully all be in the sky and on the sea traveling all the more sooner.
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