I’ve had a problem focusing since early Friday night. I’d listened to a radio report on Thursday’s suicide bombings in Beirut on my way to work. And it felt like just as soon as I’d wiped these tears from my eyes, I read a text from my dad. “What’s happening in Paris?” he said. I didn’t have an answer. I didn’t know what was happening in Paris. The attacks had just begun.
Since the immediate panic and frenzy of checking in with my friends and host family in France, I’ve been a little dazed. I’ve not really visibly reacted. I’ve just taken in information wherever and however I can get it. I’ve been glued to the French newspapers I read regularly online. I’ve watched their videos, read their articles. A live stream from Le Monde is still playing through my headphones.
But this intake hasn’t been without conflict. I’ve listened and read what my very smart friends have said, their warnings about the Eurocentric nature of mainstream media’s reactions to terrorism. And while more than half of me is nodding along with them–why wasn’t there a Facebook filter for Beirut? A safety check-in?–another part of me wants to feel less guilty openly mourning the slaughter in France, the country that has become my second home.
A friend posted, “I’m not sure we know how to grieve on a global scale,” and I think he’s right. It’s really, really hard to balance and express global grief. I have deep, forever ties to France because I’ve lived there, because I have a second family there. I’ve spent the past eight years studying France and its language. I think that makes me feel the jolt of the Paris attacks more than the others. And yet, I don’t want to justify my grief, “I can feel sad because…” I don’t want to divide it up, “I can feel here and not here.”
And just as I mourn the loss of lives, the fear that has swept France since Friday’s attacks, I also continue to be afraid for France’s immigrants and the refugees who struggle to find their place there. I fear the retaliation that could put these valuable lives at risk–the retaliation already underway in Syria and in the Metropole.
I’m confused by the politics to grief, but I’ve been thinking about this prayer, shared by Chicago Theological Seminary on Friday:
O God, our hearts are broken for all who are affected by today’s violence in Paris, even as we continue to remember victims of violence over recent weeks in Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Jerusalem, and yesterday in Beirut. May relentless explosions not numb us to the pain of others or turn us away in fear. Rather may it deepen our resolve to accompany, to protect, to bring peace. Amen.
As I think about my upcoming trip to France, I’m equally conflicted. What’s certain is that I will go to Saint-Malo to research and go to La Porte Peinte to write. My desire to research and write has only intensified since Friday. My heart is in France, just as my writing and my mind continue to be centered there. I’m supposed to be writing today, supposed to be working on my reflections on Clermont-Ferrand, as I have been this fall. But I’m struggling to write about my experiences in France two years ago. It’s difficult to think about France then when my mind is on the ugliness in Paris this weekend.
It is a natural thing, a good thing, I think, that art should shift in response to the events of the world and I think my future writing will somehow involve the current climate in France. I don’t yet know how it will, but I don’t know how it couldn’t. How can/should this type of historical research reflect and inform today’s conflicts? It’s difficult for me to know right now.
I’m shaken and afraid, conflicted and mourning and praying. I’m grateful for the time I’ve been given to research in France, even as I continue to hope for the gift of more time to interview and research, to understand these complexities.
On Saturday, unable to read anything else for my wandering mind, I picked up a copy of A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway. The familiar images of 1920s Paris calmed me and then they, too, made me cry. A Moveable Feast is probably my most favorite book in the world–filled with writing and food and France and Ernest Hemingway. I read it often to calm down when I’m stressed, a habit I started when I was in Clermont-Ferrand. “Will this, too, be changed for me?” I wondered as I read on Saturday.
I wept last night as my phone buzzed with the news of French airstrikes on Syria. I wept again this morning as I watched the Congress in Versailles sing La Marseillaise. My grief may be confused, but it is also constant.
I don’t mean for this post to be focused solely on me–on my inability to understand the proper way to mourn these global losses. I want neither to engage in self-pity about my fractured grief, nor to pat myself on the back for thinking about its complexities. I feel selfish, or rather, self-absorbed in writing this. Yet, all I know to do right now is to listen and read, to cry, to pray, and to think.
I’m getting by only on simplifying my sadness, focusing on the sadness of the most recent lives lost, the most recent fear, around the world. Perhaps we do not yet know how to grieve on a global scale, perhaps I don’t yet know how to do that, but I do think there’s something good in this simple sadness, and in these words: “May relentless explosions not numb us to the pain of others or turn us away in fear. Rather may it deepen our resolve to accompany, to protect, to bring peace.”