Kathleen O’Hanlon is a lifelong friend to my spouse. They go back to the 80s — what a thing to have friendship that spans three decades. Kathleen and her spouse are traveling in France, a three month trip which is a complete dream trip for them. I’m happy for them. Kathleen is blogging a bit, to share and remember some of the experience. Her post this week, a reflection on the commitment to life following a terrorist attach from a year ago, was moving to me. And sobering. And encouraging.
On our first night back in our beloved France, we had dinner on the terrace of La Belle Equipe. There are hundreds of these small, casual, convivial restaurants throughout Paris, and enjoying a meal at their little sidewalk tables is a quintessentially French experience. The food is good here, generous portions and attractively presented. We dined amid a crowd of all ages. A mother with her young child was seated next to us, this 7-year-old boy masterfully cutting his hamburger (cooked rare as is typical) with knife and fork. Last November 13th, this same sidewalk terrace was filled as well; the multi-cultural, multi-racial staff and patrons were celebrating a birthday that Friday night. Two men jumped out of their car and spent minutes spraying gunfire at the diners who had gathered to enjoy the evening, the conversation, each other. Nineteen people were massacred here in the bloodbath, and nine critically wounded. The Jewish owner survived the attack. His Muslim wife, the mother of their child, bled to death in his arms. This restaurant and five others were attacked by the terrorists that night, who went on to attack the nearby Bataclan concert hall four minutes later. The carnage would take 130 lives before the night was over. Antoine Leiris, the husband of Hélène who was killed at the Bataclan, wrote a moving memorial to her, and to life:
YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY HATRED
Friday night, you took an exceptional life–the love of my life, the mother of my son–but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know; you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart.
So no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.
I saw her this morning. Finally, after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you; I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17 months old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred, either.
Some restaurants attacked that night have closed forever. For the sake of the owner’s eight-year-old daughter and the returning staff, La Belle Equipe has been completely remodeled, so as to not resemble the old in any way. It just reopened in April. We came here to join Parisians in their insistence that their life and their love and their “joie de vivre” persist and cannot be stolen from them. We raised a glass to memory and a happier future.
As chance would have it, we had wi-fi issues and were unable to post this entry until today. We fell asleep to fireworks last night… and only learned the news of the Fête Nationale (Bastille Day) attack in Nice this morning. Kathleen was on our host’s computer upstairs and cried out “Oh no!” John’s immediate thought downstairs was “Where is this week’s massacre?”–this response, a sign of our times. Our experience on Monday evening in Paris feels all the more poignant with last night’s attack. Nos coeurs sont pleins de chagrin–Our hearts are heavy, and amidst the grief we know that politicians both in France and in the US will use these attacks to fuel the fear and mistrust and xenophobia of their citizens, to their own advantage. It becomes ever more pressing to be a presence of love and to speak out for goodwill, understanding, peace. This is a sign on the interior wall of the newly-reopened La Belle Equipe:
“Only love is capable of avenging the low blows of life.”
And this we captured in a shop window in Paris near Place des Vosges, in the historic Jewish quarter of Paris, where 75 years ago most of the Jewish population was deported, in a previous period of violence and hatred and xenophobia :
“If you want peace, create love.” –Victor Hugo