On Saturday, I was using a hammer and screwdriver to chip away at the old kitchen tiles that had been jackhammered off the wall. I swear they must have been stuck on with superglue. In between hitting my knuckle with the hammer (I’m no tradie) I was fielding calls from a friend about another friend’s son who was at risk of suicide.
In the middle of this came the breaking news about the horrors unfolding in Paris—strategic and targeted attacks allegedly designed to provoke panic and fear. I couldn’t help it. I sat down covered in tile dust and cried while my husband looked on in horror. I mean, he was in the process of dismantling the rest of the kitchen. I’m not sure he wanted his incompetent trades assistant to fall apart at this particular time.
About an hour later, I was getting ready for a baby shower—a celebration of new life. Picture a beautiful young woman, tentative and gentle, hope beaming from her smile as she opened the gifts from the women gathered around her. Tummy matching the dancing balloons tied to the tea table groaning with pretty cakes. Some silly games, one where you had to remember the titles to nursery rhymes, took me back to childhood as I racked my brain to remember each one.
There was a weird but welcome sense of safety and innocence permeating the whole scene. Fortunately, the woman sitting next to me said she had not heard about anything happening in Paris. This ensured I couldn’t spoil the atmosphere with verbal ruminations on the darkness. As long as I focused on the light within the little party, I didn’t think about the TV scenes in Paris.
The next day was a day spent face-down looking through the glass of my mask at the fish and coral of the Great Barrier Reef. The sharks, as usual, appeared like stealth fighters from the shadows at the sound of the spear gun going off, always there, always just out of my line of sight, until the “ting” of the spear as it left the rubber. Fresh fish was cooked on the BBQ as the sun went down and the calls of the birds softened into night. The rhythms of life were seemingly back on track.
Driving to work on Monday, the radio was on. A Parisian father wept for his 23-year-old son killed at the rock and roll concert. He described his son as someone who was just an ordinary young man,“unexceptional”, and beloved. He talked about his need to keep talking about his son, his need to know whether he died immediately or later and whether he had experienced fear and panic. Was it long or slow, this passage into death? As he spoke, I could hear his heart break over and over again, and my heart broke for him, for all the others and for all of us.
He said that what he must do now is spread a message of hope to young people in the face of hopelessness. All this humanness, kindness, and connection, this one desire to spread hope, in the midst of his feelings of confusion and chaos. I cried the rest of the way to work, snuffling, and aware of the need to pull myself back together, reign in scattered feelings, and to begin this working week whole enough.
The week has proceeded as usual. Western governments are declaring a merciless response and there is more news of foiled terrorist attacks. One report that stands out was that of an ambulance packed with explosives and parked at a soccer match somewhere in Germany. It was cancelled, of course. The media has lurched from left to right and people from either side and in the middle have jumped on to various bandwagons. For me, the Dalai Lama’s response made the most sense: work for peace within our families and our society, and don’t expect help from God and governments.
A 91-year-old French lady who walks down our road every day is grieving for her friends and family. Yesterday she told me that she had seen my father-in-law, who said to her “Je Suis Paris”. There was a difference written in her face.
I believe in human kindness, and I believe in Ubuntu—I am you, you are me. I don’t know what to do or what should be done. All I know is that we are all connected, despite our separateness.
It’s been one hell of a week.