“But mommy, it’s Taylor Swift! and Ed Sheeran! and Dua Lipa!,” my 10 year old daughter protested. My mind was paralyzed as soon as she had announced that she really wanted to attend the Poptopia concert at the SAP Center in San Jose. News stories of the Mandalay Bay shooting were still coming in; not enough time had passed, I was still reeling from it all.
My first instinct was to say “No.” That was the parent in me talking. My second instinct was to buy more tickets (though I finally did not act upon it) As a good citizen, I believe that I am part of the everyday line of defense against terrorism. Would I be teaching my daughter to stand up to terrorism if we went to the concert? Or would I be a foolhardy parent if I did? Must I not protect her? Was I overreacting thinking that disaster could happen to me and mine too? The third voice in me, the artist, who by definition is rebellious, courageous, and expressive also chimed in: It is a true rite of passage to go to a concert. At school, my daughter had dressed up as Taylor Swift on the day that they had to talk about their icons/heroes/famous people. Hers was not a run-of-the-mill music-lover passion for Swift. How can that which is independent in her thrive, if I taught her to cower?
I believe each one of us is in a state of war today and therefore must be a soldier. But that is for me. When I have to make decisions for my children, it is not so easy. As a music columnist, I spent some time in the last few months trying to express what music brings to a world. I wrote about music being the harbinger and announcer of change (Real Voter Stories, May 2016). Of how lyrics, melody, and rhythm can incite powerful transformations (When A Song Becomes an Anthem, November 2016). Of musicians who dared (When in Doubt: Be a Hero March 2017).
I remember that Ariana Grande had gone back to Manchester within weeks of the attack at her concert. I remember how U2 had simply rescheduled after their original concert had to be canceled after the Paris attacks. Later, Bono had said about the concert, “The least important voices tonight were the ones onstage, because more than any other night, what mattered wasn’t the melody, it was the harmony.”
How can there be that harmony without an audience? Maybe I should buy the tickets. “I’ll stay safe, mommy,” my daughter said the next day. I explain to her that it would be impossible to be safe were a bomb to explode. She doesn’t roll her eyes exactly, but does the pre-tween equivalent of it.
As 2017 draws to a close, I catch myself wondering about the world more. Was it always so complex? I conclude that it has always been tough for parents in any period of time. In this situation, it boiled down to what was a known risk. But then, every decision we make can be potentially dangerous, such as getting on a plane! I understand now why Yudhistra, one of the main characters of the epic Mahabharata expounded the principles of dharma (an individual’s path). Because discovering your dharma is an endless pursuit and following it does not necessarily bring rewards. What is my dharma as a parent? To protect or to guide? Maybe I should go to the concert and not my daughter? Restless, I avoided being alone with my daughter, but in vain. I keep telling her, “I’m still thinking about it,” a dozen times.
Three days later, I find out that my daughter has talked my husband into it, and he has bought tickets. She followed her own dharma of being a cannot-say-No-to personality, it turns out! My husband has faith in the security measures that will be enforced, especially in the aftermath of Las Vegas. He placates my doubts, “Look, I only bought the tickets. We still have the option of not going.”
I’m guessing that most people who go to large public gatherings these days do that after some soul searching. Musicians for example, are taking on terrorism insurance. I wonder if there is similar insurance for citizens and parents? “And the point of that would be what?” I belabor.
There is no question in my mind that terrorism can be held at bay by the incessant collective will of regular people wanting to celebrate their lives. I just don’t know if going to a music concert is a must-have celebration for my family. Go/no-go decision time will have come and gone by the time this column gets read: Poptopia is on December 2. If you have had to make similar decisions, please comment online when it gets published!
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.