At the second this year announced its arrival, I was in a house in Malakoff, a suburb of Paris, with a variety of individuals of various ages, backgrounds, professions, personalities and opinions. These blended seamlessly together in a tangible atmosphere which led to one of the best nights of my life. I have rarely felt as content, secure and belonging as I did that night.
As this year draws to a close, I have twice been hooked to as many news sources as I can open, combing through endless social media posts and media information for any and all indication that those people, loving and celebrating life so passionately, are still there to enjoy it.
I’m a Brit married to a Parisian, and I’ve become very familiar with the city over the last couple of years. Paris has been responsible for some of the best food I’ve eaten, art I’ve experienced, people I’ve met, beauty I’ve appreciated, and happiness I’ve felt. Yesterday, 120 people experiencing exactly the same were killed for doing so. Many more are injured. Many more than that will never be quite the same people they were when they left their houses that morning.
France is a natural target for this breed of hatred; more than any other country I’ve visited, it is founded and exists on a set of ideas. Three words define the nation and its people more than any strength of borders, military force or political will ever could. Evidence of this is everywhere; in the place names (Place de la République), in the country’s unifying support for Charlie Hebdo, regardless of their personal views of the publication, because of the freedom of speech it stood for; in the steadfast rejection of any assault on civil liberties, because while increased police presence may save lives, the defeat of freedom is no victory. Compare this to the apocalyptic death cult which attacked them, attacked Beirut and attacks thousands every day for choosing life over death.
France is not Marine le Pen; is not the young man who participated in these attacks; is not even their President. France is the taxi drivers who brought people home for free; is the Sikhs who opened their temples to all who needed help regardless of creed; is the millions of Muslims who were in those same cafes and restaurants. Whilst following the news yesterday, my husband made the following statement:
‘I wish I was in Paris right now’
Why, when we are safe where we are? Because we feel helpless being away, yes. But also because when France is attacked, the spirit of the country shines through in the most heartwarming fashion. This is a country whose people will stand up for each other and for their shared ideas as they have historically – even, as in the Revolution, against their own countrymen. They love life, love each other, and love others.
Globally, those who love life and are determined to live it will live on in the hearts and spirits of others. The memories of all those who died yesterday are amplified in the minds of us all.
‘The more we were pursued, the more each one of our gestures took on the nature of an engagement.’ – Jean-Paul Sartre