Alright... I started writing this about four days ago. We'll see where it ends up.
With the news of the shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo this week, I've been thinking a lot about Paris. Not just because of the shooting, but because - as many of you know - I spent a year living and teaching in Paris 25 years ago.
I've been thinking about the people who lost their lives, and what they went through, and while I've been watching the news stories I've been trying to figure out where the shooting took place. I'm not sure why that matters to me, but somewhere in my mind it's important, and so I keep searching for that information.
I think the location matters to me, in part, because the site of some of the big demonstrations the past two nights have been in the Place de la Republique - which was where I caught the Metro pretty much every day that I lived there. And I want to feel like the places that I know from Paris are safe. It's irrational, but I think we all have those irrational rationalizations that keep us sane at night.
I've also been thinking about Paris and the attack a lot because, when I lived there, the apartment I shared was on the ground floor of a building and we could often hear people walking along a hallway next to our apartment, but outside there wasn't really any marking for what that hallway might have led to. There was just a small plaque with some initials on it and a buzzer. Eventually - about 2/3 of the way through my stay - we found out that behind the roll-up metal door was another door. And, behind that door (and down the hallway beside our apartment) was a Jewish Youth Center. It was "camouflaged" because there was such a strong anti-Semitic fervor in France at the time that they were worried about bombings. (Not gonna lie - I'm really glad I learned that late in the year, and not just before I moved in...)
And, yes, I'm also thinking about it because in about 3 months Christopher and I will be meeting up with friends in Paris. And although nothing will stop us from going, I'm trying to keep an eye on everything to make sure that we know what we'll be walking into.
So, I wrote all of that, and was having some trouble figuring out where it was going. That's one of the things about tragedy - you never know what's going to happen, next, or when that next shoe will drop. And that's scary. Frustrating. Sad.
But then the news reports started to come in about the acts of heroism during the shooting and the aftermath. The Muslim employee of a Kosher market who hid people in the freezer to protect them. The Muslim police office whose family is speaking out about his tragic death at the hands of one of the terrorists. The acts of bravery start to make the rest a little less scary. Not a lot, but a little.
And then... then we see the reports of the demonstrations. And the million or more people who staged a "unity demonstration" in Paris, simply to say that they wouldn't be beaten by the acts of a few extremists.
One of the drawings that has circulated a lot in the past few days has been of a pencil being broken, then the broken piece being sharpened and - in the end - becoming two pencils. The strength that can come from adversity. The power in coming together. That part of the human existence that says that when we come together for peace, we can move mountains. That's what I was looking for.
Paris has always been a city of my dreams. A city of wonder and amazement, even when I was living there and had come to see the dirty sidewalks and the street beggars. Seeing the city work so hard to recover from such tragedy makes me believe in the magic of the Parisian power to fascinate and overcome all over again.
Paris, je t'aime.