I was going to watch a film Friday night, when I received a ‘Guardian alert’ on my phone, mentioning some shootings across Paris. I didn’t realise the scope of these first, but out of curiosity, I reopened my computer and went onto so many different news sites, allowing me to follow the terrible events that stroke the French capital that night…
What followed was nothing but a sleepless night of terror and concern for all of my friends, who now live in Paris. My French flatmate and I gathered in the corridor of our East London cosy flat for a while to simply not be alone and tell each other what we were feeling, making sure we had heard of our friends and that they were okay; and after that, we went back to our rooms and spent most of the night watching, reading and listening to the news, and powerlessly witnessing the constantly increasing number of victims and wondering when this was all going to stop.
‘I am so confused and sick of this unfair world and of all these innocent people dying! And whatever the reason, you know: terrorism, cancer, car accident, air plane crash, famine,… I really can’t take it anymore and I can’t quite explain what it does to me… It’s just heartbreaking.. Again!’ I wrote to Amelie, one of my best and oldest friends, that night. And then, I said: ‘So… I’m hanging on to the only thing I still believe can change all that: LOVE ! Of everyone and everything on this bloody planet!’
Being abroad now, even though I’m literally next door, doesn’t always feel quite right. When you learn about such things and hear your president say your country is at war, and that there’s an emergency state and so on and so on, you only just really want to be with your loved ones. You want to hold them in your arms, hug them and tell them you love them – probably for the umpteenth time, but who cares?! – because you don’t know what tomorrow will be made of, and these things are just too important to be kept silent.
This morning, I went back to university and officially tackled this new week, and the atmosphere was pretty tense and sad. There are two other French students in my class, and this morning, we hugged and stayed together and surely felt more connected than ever before.
During this first class of the week, we were asked by our guest journalist speaker: ‘where do you see yourself in 3 years time? What’s your biggest dream?’ Quite a few people gave their answer before me and all replied things related to their future ‘dream job’. When my turn came, I first said: ‘that is actually one of the most difficult questions ever!’. And our guest speaker then said to me: ‘well, it didn’t seem to be that complicated for all of the other people in the class’. And I simply nodded, and couldn’t really answer so I drifted to what kind of writing I’d like to do, which is writing about my experience of life to help people who’ve been through similar situations, and that apparently is called ‘journalism for greater good’.
Anyway. I think the reason why I found that question very difficult is a lot due to what happened last month in my family. My dad’s death changed me and I really realised it this morning when I was asked that question. So for the rest of the class and on my way back to the flat, I kept on wondering: ‘what’s your next dream, Marie?’, ‘what’s your dream, what do you want out of this life?’. I’ve been thinking a lot about it before and again today, and I think my biggest dream… will seem very simple and easy for some, but so much harder to reach to others. My biggest dream now is to be happy. You know… ‘happy’ with its ups and downs but genuinely happy. I don’t really care where I’ll be or what job I’ll have as long as I’m happy doing what I do and as long as I get to spend my limited time on this planet close to the people I love most.
France has been affected by terrorism for the second consecutive time this year, its youth, its symbol of liveliness, has been attacked, its people have been targeted directly and shot and killed on Friday. And somehow, I think this situation, this nonsense happening right now, helped me see and put words on what actually is a dream.
Now, there’s this big controversy going on about how some people layered their Facebook profile picture with the French flag, about how some apparently showed some ‘disrespect’ by expressing themselves in whatever forms that may be; maybe they wrote, maybe their drew, maybe they sang, maybe they didn’t say a word.
But all of this is ok.
If there’s one thing I learnt from my dad’s death about the early stage of grief is that no one can tell you how to experience it. No one can tell you how to go through it. No one can somewhat patronise you because you showed or expressed your affection and your pain for your country and you didn’t do it at all or that much for Lebanon for example. And hell, people! that’s bloody fine! That’s your grief!
You are French, just like me and we all knew someone or know someone who knew someone, and we’re sad and angry and all this nasty stuff that comes with grief. Or maybe, you’re European or a Westerner and you feel affected by these Paris attacks more than you maybe were by others in the Middle East and I think that’s okay.
I mean, if you scale this down a little, you’ll probably be more affected by the death of your best friend’s father than by that of someone in the north of England you knew nothing about and didn’t feel connected to in any way. It’s horrible, but that’s just human nature I suppose.
When my dad passed away last month, I told people in an open letter and told myself too to seek the light at these especially dark times. And no matter how hard it is and how impossible it seems most of the time, you need to look for it anyway, you need to let your heart get warmed by the people in your life, even by strangers – who knows? – in short, by ‘the people you will let in’ as Martin, one of my best friends, wisely said to me many times. That’s how you’ll keep going.
Speaking of, there were a few little things that have warmed my heart since Friday: this elderly, for example, who’s full of common sense; this father with his young son, talking about the baddies and how France is their home; John Oliver’s ‘moment of premium cable profanity‘ (I mean the ‘If you’re in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck!’ phrase and the ‘French Freedom Tower’ were pure genius!), the beautiful initiatives from strangers to strangers everywhere in France and abroad during and after the attacks, and so on and so on.
So what now?
We’re going to start living life to the fullest again. But we’re not going to pretend – again – that this is not real and that it won’t happen again. We’re not – at least, I am not – going to pretend that we’re/I’m not afraid, because I bloody am; I’m scared each time I step out of my flat, every time I’m walking in the street or go to the library. I don’t want to be, but I am. And I hate myself for that, but guess what… I’ve got something in me that is stronger than this fear, and it is my love for life and all the people it brought me.
On Friday night, I think everything changed; it was the one time too many.
We need to fight terrorism and so, we will fight it. Together. We will unite. We will love. we will laugh and dance and scream and hold hands and hug and kiss and even cry. We’ll go to class, to work, and out to the restaurant, to a concert, to the theatre. We’ll wear skirts and make up if we wish, and let our passions guide us. We’ll listen to our hearts more than ever, but we’ll also need to listen to our brains, reminding us of this reality we imperatively need to fight!
We won’t stop, we’ll go to war every single day, until the word FREEDOM holds all of its meaning again, until hatred is eradicated!
« Je continuerai à croire, même si tout le monde perd espoir. Je continuerai à aimer, même si les autres distillent la haine. Je continuerai à construire, même si les autres détruisent. Je continuerai à parler de paix, même au milieu d’une guerre. Je continuerai à illuminer, même au milieu de l’obscurité. Je continuerai à semer, même si les autres piétinent la récolte. Et je continuerai à crier, même si les autres se taisent. Et je dessinerai des sourires sur des visages en larmes. Et j’apporterai le soulagement, quand on verra la douleur. Et j’offrirai des motifs de joie là où il n’y a que tristesse. J’inviterai à marcher celui qui a décidé de s’arrêter… Et je tendrai les bras à ceux qui se sentent épuisés. » - Abbé Pierre