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We can deny terrorists by living freely

As I took my Hillsboro Stadium press box seat July 14 to cover a Hops baseball game, my smartphone lit up with a New York Times story: Assailant drives truck into crowd, killing 80 people in Nice, France.

“God,” my heart raced, “Ambre’s family is in Nice.”

Ambre is an effervescent, joyful, 15-year-old, auburn-haired French girl who lived with our family last summer, and whose own family had just hosted our daughter at their home outside Nice. Ambre and our daughter spent early July in and about Nice, including strolling the city’s palm tree-lined Promende de Anglais boulevard by the blue Mediterrean Sea.

When our daughter returned to Portland, we celebrated by watching the Grace Kelly and Cary Grant classic “To Catch a Thief,” with its storyline set in Nice and filmed on location in that idyllic, safe seaport.

But last Thursday during my work breaks, I dispatched emails to Ambre and her parents, Judy and Luis. Our two daughters, who think of Ambre as a sister, sent text messages. We restlessly awaited their response across 5,547 miles and nine time zones. Our daughters soon learned that Ambre had not attended the Bastille Day event where the carnage happened, and had returned safely home that evening. The next morning, Judy emailed back in English, “Pray for us and pray for the people who are in the hospital between life and death. Many children are victims, and we hope they become angels, and are in peace.”

When I was a child, my first awareness of the murder of children was watching black-and-white television news broadcasts of the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama, church bombing that killed four girls. After that bombing, then-University of Illinois student editor and future film critic Roger Ebert wrote that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. cried out to the governor of Alabama: “The blood of these innocent children is on your hands.” Yet, Ebert wrote, “that was not entirely the truth. The blood is on so many hands that history will weep in the telling. And it is not new blood. It is old, so very old ... it clings and waits and in its turn, it kills again.”

I write these next words with trepidation lest they offend or be misunderstood. There isn’t necessarily more violence in the world today. We are now instantly aware — with communication technology jumping across continents — of the cold-blooded depravity in far off France. It now seems as close as San Bernardino and Orlando. Social media also viscerally displays long-standing violent patterns against police suspects from Minneapolis to Baton Rouge and the murderous reactions against police.

The history behind the Nice attack and such other violence, is old — so very old.

As the French take endless precautions to keep old blood from killing more, I think of what another French parent and friend shared last November after attacks in Paris killed 125 people. “This awful terrorism is a major trauma for each of us,” emailed Laurent Bourquin of Paris, whose teenager daughter, Armance, has stayed with us in Portland. “All of us believe that the best answer to the barbarians is to continue living as we always have, yet it is impossible to overtake these horrific images.”

The reality for Ambre’s and Armance’s families will be more Army soldiers patrolling alongside their local French police for many years. Bastille Day, concerts and celebrations will have backdrops of uncertainty.

And here in Oregon, in addition to our becoming more aware, we can also can deny the Nice, Paris and San Bernardino terrorists one of their goals. We can live fully and freely.

Ambre’s family is coming to Portland next week and spending two weeks exploring our state —Crater Lake, the Wallowa Mountains and the Oregon dunes.

And next summer, we will let our younger daughter stay with Ambre’s family in Nice, where she will walk on and respect the humanity and memories of the Promende de Anglais.

Mark Kirchmeier is a sports reporter for the News-Times and Hillsboro Tribune.