Under a luminous April sky, this, another small bounty for the soul — to sit on a Paris street drinking coffee and pulling a croissant to pieces slowly to make it last. The shopkeepers smiled, and the waiters. In the middle of the Rue de Honore we met a troupe of couples whirling through tangos, insisting on the goodness of life. Each day we followed the great curve of the Seine. It glowed even in mist.
Yet on this morning we have heard the ancient command proclaimed again in suffering Paris: “Be merciless. Spare no one. Those who believe in blood and god must kill to prove their blessed worth.”
The bodies have been cleared from the sidewalks. The huddled survivors in gold blankets have gone. Armored vans squat on corners. Men lightly cradle black guns set to slings. Their hard eyes turn to mark each face of the lost still adrift on the streets.
Mad act by act incites the reasonable life toward some fated end.
I feel the counterclaim, the atavistic answer, arise in me: “Hit back. Hit hard. No pity. Vengeance is the oldest choice. What else to do with those who prove their lives by murder but kill until all their dead have vexed their god? For gun and knife are bred to the bone.”
What sanctuary will hold of the “quiet people” who might live their lives in peace — “… the ice, the desert, the side of the mountain?”*
This too is true: the snows are waiting in the mountains of the Balkans for the million who seek escape from their death state. Beirut bleeds. Kenya bleeds. Russian children fell from the sky into a desert. Must the innocent always pay the awful bill?
We are coming to a hard time.
On our last Spring morning in unwounded Paris, we entered the Musee d’Armee and found a square where soldiers had gathered in uniformed ranks, their big war dogs at rest before them. The old man next to me, his voice unsteady, said “Une cérémonie de courage. L’Afghanistan.”
Later, atop the Arc de Triomphe, we saw that the plane trees along the spokes of the Boulevards had acquired their green haze. I remember wishing that I could have lived more deeply in this life, in this city, in all this beauty.
The French will fight. Paris will endure. They have been through worse.
Today’s vow is this: I will think of the dancers at midday and of their imperfect, stumbling joy. I will think of green Paris, wheeling in light along the great curve of the Seine.
*My neighbor, an Israeli man told me “All over the world, the quiet people are being pushed out by the vicious.” I prompted him: ‘So the meek shall inherit…’ He said “…the ice, the desert, the side of the mountain.” James Parker in The New York Times Book Review, November, 8, 2015