At least I’m not numb. I know that I am feeling something about the attacks in Paris because I keep snapping unreasonably at my husband over everything. Driving across
town last evening to see a friend perform in a play, not long after the news broke, a semi
close on our left as we sped down the highway and the intermittent stopping and starting of brake lights ahead nearly gave me an anxiety attack and I wasn’t even driving. When Joe asked me to get out my phone to confirm the final navigation to the theater, I freaked because we were already running late. “What do you mean you don’t know the way?? We’ve been here before!” The poor guy. At least he knows me, knows my pattern. My grief regularly masquerades as anger. The realization that “at least I’m not numb” arrived after I grumbled at Joe about leaving the weekday alarm clock on and being awakened from a sound sleep at 5:30 am. The phrase sounded like a writing prompt, so I got up. Maybe writing will help. Help what? Nothing can help what has happened. Maybe writing about it can help me keep going, to incorporate this new terror event into my understanding, my portfolio of world events.
Unbelievably, just yesterday morning over coffee and toast I was perusing Rick Steves’ guide to Paris in joyful anticipation. I haven’t been there since my 20s, but the very day that a major terror attack occurs in the city, I’m visualizing Joe and myself strolling along the Seine, wandering through Notre Dame and stopping for coffee or a glass of wine in a café. We will spend a few days there in April at the end of a trip several years in the making. Joe has a sabbatical from school for the spring semester, and our 25th anniversary is in March, a perfect time for an empty nester couple to enjoy a European trip. Yesterday morning I read Steves’ chapter on hotels. He suggests selecting a neighborhood before choosing a specific hotel. I imagined us in the various scenarios and had begun to hone in on the Rue Cler area, near the Invalides and Rodin Museum, an unfamiliar area to me. Joe’s never been to Paris so this way we could have a new experience together.
Paris is an old friend of mine. As a college student and right after graduation, two separate sojourns, I spent several months in France and came to know Paris well, to the point that I could get around without relying on a map for every single turn. I felt at home. It is a “place” to me in the way that urban planners, writers and geographers speak of it. A “sense of place” grows from identifying oneself in relation to a specific location or piece of land. I strongly associate Paris with beauty, self-discovery, adventure and growth. I first learned essential travel skills there, things like how to utilize public transportation, to read a map, to avoid standing out as an obnoxious American, to outline a sightseeing plan, to book hotels in a foreign language. What I retain most vividly though is more sensory than informative. The uneven terrain of narrow cobbled streets. Steaming, frothy cappuccino (a true novelty in the days before there were Starbucks on every corner). Incessant honking of car horns amid speeding traffic on the main boulevards. The Eiffel Tower rising up to create the iconic skyline. Yes, terror in Paris pierces my heart in a more particular way than violence elsewhere.
Yet the icy chill of helplessness and horror, fear and desolation are always, sadly, the same, whether it’s Newtown, Charleston, Beirut, Baghdad, Paris, London, Madrid, Tel Aviv, Moscow or any other place. I cannot pray in words. They simply are not enough. I can only make gestures of acknowledgement. Changing out my Facebook profile and cover photos to Paris images from my phone while we wait for the play to start is a tiny effort at holding space for enormous suffering. Back home, before I go to bed I light a stick of incense and ring my meditation chime six times, once for each attack site. I wait for each sound of the gong to vibrate fully, allowing the return of silence before striking the bowl again. Then I place six rocks gathered from Lake Michigan and the Atlantic Ocean around the incense burner. Finally, I hold my hands out in front of me, palms down in the “hands still” technique I learned in Healing Touch, sending out to the world what loving, peaceful energy I could. Not nearly enough, but something.