I stood in line to board a plane late Friday afternoon. The news broke on the television behind me. Attacks in Paris, they said. Four dead, they reported.
I sat in Row 18. The girl in Row 19 stared at her phone, her hands trembling. She was an exchange student from Paris. Strangers reassured her.
By the time our flight landed, the death toll exceeded 100. The girl’s seatmate pulled up Google maps and showed her the pins, which also popped the breath she’d been holding. I received Facebook updates that friends had been “marked safe.”
Now being on the ground seems as dangerous as being in a plane. Now we use maps to plot proximity to carnage. Now we use social media to announce survival.
Now, we confront the privilege of mourning only some. Ask Lebanon, and Kenya, and Nigeria.
Terror is not relative. Terror is always terrible. Terror is also cunning, spawning double-standards, distorting compassion, attaching guilt to sympathy.
Now, solidarity seems weak for its selectivity, and unity seems isolating for its exclusivity.
Beyond that is a subject for a different column, a smarter author.
So indulge me in a sick privilege. Accept my choice to get lost, even if temporarily, in one tragedy. Acknowledge with me the profound sadness of seeing the City of Love being kidnapped by hate.
In the heart of Paris, there are street vendors selling roses out of a basket. There are wide sidewalks filled with schoolgirls, their loafers creating a rhythmic echo, their arms linked together. There are old friends meeting in a park, sitting in green metal chairs, the happy cries of children pushing toy sailboats in the background.
In the heart of Paris, cold hearts turned heartless. Once warm hearts stopped, caught, skipped. The heart of the matter proved complicated.
Where do broken hearts go?
In the City of Light, chandeliers glow from casement windows that swing in or out. The sun sparkles off the stained glass of Notre Dame. The tower is as visible, as iconic, at night as it is at day.
In the dark their darkness was illuminated. In the dark they came out of their shadowland. In the dark guns glinted, explosions shimmered, riot shields reflected street lamps, and the tower was extinguished.
Who can see in that dark?
Cafes open onto the street, red awnings extended. Heavy wooden doors open into cobblestoned courtyards, green shrubbery growing out of the stone. Greetings open with a kiss on each cheek, hands clasped around arms.
Open fire. Open wounds. Eyes wide open.
What do we close?
Once home, I closed my eyes and fell asleep thinking of the first time I ate fresh cherries, bought from an outdoor market in the Latin Quarter. I thought of the way French women wear their scarves, so effortlessly chic and impossible to imitate. I thought of lined notebooks and fountain pens and Internet cafes.
I woke up. I had breakfast with my children. In our kitchen hangs a large print of a neighborhood in Paris, an anniversary present to my husband.
After breakfast, my daughter showed me a video she had watched at school while I was away. Titled “Kindness Boomerang,” the video depicts how one good deed spawns another until the favor is returned to the first provider. It is set to a song whose lyrics include the line “sometimes in my tears I drown.”
The song goes on, it’s message ultimately hopeful: When negativity surrounds, trust that it will turn around. The people will say we don’t want to fight anymore, and our children will play. One day.
In the heart of Paris, there was a wedding the day after. The monuments of New York, Shanghai and Sydney colored the way, their spires and shells beaconing and beckoning. The stranded found refuge behind a #porteouverte.
Soccer fans evacuated, walking together towards an unknown. They broke, spontaneously, into the song of their national anthem. Negativity surrounds, but hope turns it around.
Here is my hope for my Paris, and for yours: May the open minds prevail. May heartbeats drown out drumbeats. May there be love, and may we continue toward the light.