Pray for Paris
What to write. With so many voices flaring up, in anguish, anger, anxiety… what to write when people are praying for Paris, condemning people for praying for Paris, warring over the media, warring over the world. What can I say that will make any difference. Although my heart and mind are full of many things, what will it matter, I wonder.
I was catching up on work-stuff and blaring Bareilles at the office when I found out. I’m glad I was the only one there. I fell into shock as I watched the BBC coverage play out, words tumbling into a traffic jam in my brain. Paris? Blood bath? Terrorists? It couldn’t be happening. Not again.
I was there in January when Paris was first attacked, mere days after New Year celebrations. I looked into the eyes of fellow commuters on the metro the day after, ghoulish with grief and fear. I felt the tremor in the breath of a city known for its ease of living. Paris had clenched her fists tight around the joie de vivre, choking it a little while trying to keep it alive. I didn’t stay inside, I walked the streets. I marched in the solidarity march of 1.5 million people. I prayed ceaselessly. I felt like I was exactly where I was supposed to be, standing beside the ones I had learned to love so deeply. Eventually, her hands eased open and music began to waft through the streets of Paris again. “We cannot hide,” they said, “we won’t be afraid.” They were inspiring the way they stood. I know a lot of Americans like to joke (or not joke) about the French being cowards, but in that moment, in the moment it mattered very much, they were the embodiment of bravery.
When I left in September, those terrible events in January were remembered for their rallying marches and “Je suis Charlie” graffiti at the Place de Republique. We had risen above the terror. Life restored.
And then Friday night. This time not against a specific religion or media faction. Just indiscriminate carnage. Thank God no one I knew was hurt. Thank God my friends in Paris responded quickly on social media to tell me they were safe. I did not have to hold my breath for hours as some did, only 20 minutes or so.
Messages from friends and family flooded in––so glad you are back home, you left at the right time, etc. But I didn’t want to be stateside. I don’t want safety and comfort right now. I want to be there, in the thick of it. I want to wrap the city in my arms, I want to hold her hands now battered and tighter than ever. As I fell asleep Friday night, I kept begging God to make me wake up in France. Transport me. Do a miracle, something please. I closed my eyes tight, mustering every ounce of faith I could. Please, let me go to them, my heart ached. Just let me go.
Saturday morning came, and I was still in Columbus. I numbly worked my weekend morning shift at the little French bakery in town, which had to this point been a happy reminder of days gone by. That day, it was fortress. Local support was immense. The local news came. People expressed their condolences. We all stapled little white cards with the Paris peace symbol to our aprons.
Then I went home and sat very still for a long time. I don’t know how long. I robotically scrolled through my newsfeed as the death toll climbed. I wanted to stop, but bad news is a drug. Finally exhausted, I fell asleep at 6pm. I would wake every so often, check my phone for messages from friends still MIA in Paris, see the new death toll, and cry myself back to sleep. Sleep was an escape. I slept for 14 hours. Every time I woke up, I believed I would wake up in Paris to run downstairs and hug and kiss my beloved host family. Every time, I would wake up in Columbus and feel the aftermath of a heart breaking.
Sunday, and I am still here. Now the blogs are flaring up. People exploiting pain for platforms. People righteously condemning things they know little about. People who suddenly become world experts. People trying to make sense of senseless violence. People hurting. I know so well the walk down Canal Saint Martin, a mere block from restaurants now peppered with blood and bullet holes. Can’t you see, it is my love who has been blown up and attacked and murdered. Perhaps there is a place for that. But here, in this little space of internet, I want to make room for grief.
Paris is not just a beautiful city or the City of Light or Love or one of the world’s top travel destinations. Not to me. She is the home I dedicated the last year of my life learning to love, studying with unadulterated attention. She taught me to admire the waft of a well-ripened cheese and the clack of stilettos on cobblestone. She opened her secret gardens and historic treasure troves to me. She invited me to behind the curtain of the tourist trail, to know her most intimate places. She is Paris. Can’t you see, it is my love who has been blown up and attacked and murdered. She is what I had when I was alone last year: her streets, her concert halls, her restaurants, the very ones now peppered in blood and bullet holes. How do you lose your love not once but twice? First to distance, then to violence.
I know the French. They will not cower to threats. They will retaliate (and already have). They will continue sitting in restaurants and attending concerts and cheering on Paris Saint Germaine. I saw it in their eyes in January. And I see it even now. I want to launch into a call to action here, to tell you that we must stand with them (of course we must), that we must support our oldest ally (of course we must). But there are so many voices already telling us what we must do. So instead, I simply invite you to grieve with me. Because while everyone is waving around guns and peace signs and soapboxes, there is power in stillness and silence. There is power in simply looking the tragedy in its face, seeing it for what it is, and embracing its pain. Because I believe God works through pain, through tragedy, through loss, through violence, to bring us into a higher level of unity than before. So say a prayer for Paris, and say a prayer for me and my host family over there. And let’s move through this tragedy together.