It’s taken a while for my feelings to settle enough to be able to write about this month’s Paris attacks. I’m not quite fully ready, but two years ago at this time I was in Paris, staying just a few blocks from the Bataclan nightclub. So, this seems like the right time to give it a try.
As many have pointed out, with so much death and destruction in our crazy world, it doesn’t seem right to focus on just one place. Why add my voice to the discussion about the victims in Paris, and not write about those in Beirut or Syria? My answer is simple: an attack on someplace or someone you know and love hits home and resonates more deeply. I do my best to make it to Paris to live and work for several weeks each year. I stay in the 11th, where the Bataclan nightclub attacks took place. This is where I run, start my day off with coffee and croissant, stop in for a glass of wine after work, shop for groceries, go out for dinner, and go to sleep at night. The 11th is my Paris neighborhood, so these attacks hit too close to home.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the attacks, but I still can’t fathom what drives people to commit such atrocities. I see evidence of hate every day in both large and small ways: not just physical attacks by extremists on their enemies; but words and actions that serve only to belittle or diminish others. I’m always struck by the selfishness behind this type of behavior.
It’s actually pretty easy to carry around anger and fear and hurt. It doesn’t feel good, but these feelings create their own energy and thrive without putting any thought or effort into sustaining them.
On the other hand, peace and forgiveness and compassion are fucking hard. I’m not talking about an attitude of ‘forgive and forget’ or ‘turn the other cheek.’ I can forgive while still taking concrete steps to protect myself from those who (due to intention or carelessness) will hurt me. For me getting to forgiveness has at times meant refusing to back down; other times it has meant walking away, even when that was almost unimaginably hard. Taking a clear look at someone (or something), recognizing their faults and choosing to forgive takes effort and vigilance, especially when the hurt is fresh.
Returning to my thoughts on Paris, I refuse to think of it as a city reeling from senseless attacks. Some of the best moments of my life have been in Paris. I know I’ll make many more memories there in the coming years. I’ll walk the streets, and run along the river and canals, drink wine at cafes, buy crepes at sidewalk stands, smile at couples kissing along the Seine. No one will take this away from me.