What do you do on Friday nights? The same as the Parisians I’ll bet. You either choose to congregate with friends or colleagues after your work- week, you might choose to go to see a gig you’re into, or attend a sporting event.
Or you might choose to go home and relax with your family hoping for the simple joy of a non-eventful night.
Yes, they did that last night. They were regular. They were simply enjoying their lives, blowing off steam, singing, dancing, and cheering on teams… Living. Or trying to. Innocently enjoying their Friday night until this menace hit. Until the darkness descended on the City of Light. Again.
It’s hard to find the words to write here. I watched it all unfold as it happened last night. I had a friend visiting from Berlin, we were chatting and drinking wine until we saw a tweet alerting us to the fact there was trouble in Paris. Immediately, we, like everyone, turned on the news channels and glued ourselves to Twitter. We didn’t talk to each other for the next few hours other than to utter shocked comments and read out Tweets we were finding about what it was actually like there.
Rue de Charonne, 18 dead people outside our best friends’ house. We were going to cycle round today or tomorrow, so our kids could play.
— A common lawyer (@acommonlawyer) November 14, 2015
We hugged each other. How very lucky we were to be sitting in a warm house – safe.
Safe. That’s not how the Parisians feel today, or, of course, last night. Friday nights are for playing and living. Not to be terrified. Not to be killed.
This level of darkness, of evil, is incomprehensible. We know it’s not new and that people are suffering this all over the world on a daily basis – let’s not forget that the reason the refugees are fleeing their native lands is to run from this exact thing. But these brutal, hideous attacks in such a beautiful city where so many of us have been, where we currently have friends and family living, make us feel it so acutely. I guess that’s their point – the terrorists – they want us to feel as much pain as possible.
Watching the news, the fear is tangible, the anger palpable, and the drive for justice and retribution overwhelming. Hollande declared it an act of war, and we all slightly quake with those words. War, pain, terror, horror…why are these words so prominent in our Saturday morning? Why does happiness have to be under such attack? What is the world coming to? What can we do?
This writer obviously has no answers; I have no political insights with which to explain things, I am merely overcome with empathy today. Fear is the most disabling of feelings – it stunts us utterly. Holds us back from living, from being ourselves, from being joyful. Again, it’s what they – the terrorists – wanted.
So with that in mind, the only battle cry I could suggest would be to keep living – noisily, definitely, very determinedly living.
Grieve loudly. Don’t sink. Don’t let fear force us mute. Watch the video of the crowds leaving the Stade de France last night united in song – they sang La Marseillaise – the song of revolution – at the top of their voices, knowing instinctually that to make a united noise is the best sign of defiance. And of support to each other. They needed to hold each other up, so they sang.
Yes, Paris is on her knees today. The numbers of dead and hurt are growing. Yes, these events will ripple out, they will amplify political response and then the people of Paris, and we, in solidarity, will feel worry, fear, grief and hopelessness no doubt. But we must strive to find the light. We must strive to ignite that light. Last night’s hashtag #portouverte was the beginning – meaning ‘open doors’ – it was how people offered to give shelter to others on the streets. Some even offering whiskey and just the chance to be with people for support – to not be alone as the atrocities unfolded. The stories of bravery and sublime kindness are unfolding on social media. Go to Twitter and look – you’ll always find people helping. This morning Parisians are queuing to give blood at clinics – in order to be able to carry on in times like this, where nothing is right, we must find the small actions of compassion. The larger political actions are almost too big to comprehend. The news reports repeat and repeat. The same visuals rolling through our heads and dare I suggest, they may de-sensitise us over time – we become accustomed to them – it’s not right, but it’s true. Already, I know the footage from the Bataclan by heart – the Pompiers climbing the ladders, then the difference of the pace in their exits from the building – running fast when holding someone still living – a slower walk when bearing the dead.
We should never become accustomed to these images, but in the rolling news world we live in, it’s hard not to. We’ll see these all day today and for a long time to come.
So what about today? We should unite in our support of course; we should send our love and care to the City of Light, now (temporarily) trembling in darkness. They switched off the lights on the Eiffel Tower last night but the rest of the world turned theirs on in blue, red and white. I say temporarily, as Paris will rise again. She always does.
Paris, you are beautiful. You are proud and you are strong.
But today, our heads are bowed with you; we wrap our arms around you.
Paris, we got you.
Though there are torturers in the world
There are also musicians.
Though, at this moment,
Men are screaming in prisons,
There are jazzmen raising storms
Of sensuous celebration,
And orchestras releasing
Glories of the Spirit.
by Michael Coady.