I am angry. I am sad. I am gutted. But, I am not terrified.
I spent Friday night listening to the news reports about Paris. We waited to see each of Vincent’s friends in Paris check in “safe” to Facebook. We sat in a room with the French news speaking in the background with its rush of language, with its rush of numbers, building from 20 to 129 dead. Vincent wrote to his French friends and with relief, they wrote back.
And, then we turned the phone’s streaming news off and kept it in our hearts and went to a dim, dark, antiseptic smelling bar with friends, among whom three are French and living in Buffalo. Though lives were destroyed that night, though buildings were shattered by bullets and assault and aggression, something else was created: the resilience of the French community. And, I realized that I was part of this community. I saw it on Sunday when I went to the solidarity march in Lafayette Square. This French-American community welcomed me in. They sang their national anthem and we sang ours. The words “Marcheons. Marcheons.” rang in my ear from their lovely cream thick accents.
Sometimes people wonder where did this love of France come from for me? Was it there before I met Vincent or was it there because of Vincent? I answer that it led me to Vincent.
I went to France with my family when I was in high school. I immediately liked France because of the trains. There was a boy on the train who was, perhaps, four years old. He and I caught each other’s eye and I smiled. He smiled back, so I waved. Then, I pretended he was calling me on a telephone that was my hand. My sister told me that French people answer the phone not with “Bonjour!” but with “Allô?” So I just kept saying “Allô? Allô?” in a wacky voice and he kept giggling and laughing and then we left the train and the boy stuck in my memory.
Years later, I went backpacking through Europe with my best friend. Some drunk Americans spilled red wine onto her white dress and it was a neat, French family who offered salt and water as a solution. “Le sel,” they said and smiled, not too much, just slightly, respectfully.
Last year in France, I stayed with Vincent’s family and saw their lovely humor, their intimate teasing between Vincent and his brothers, their joie de vivre. They took me to a vineyard by walking through an old country road. They offered me cheese and a place to read my book. They were relaxed, quiet: calm. They soaked life up by experiencing its pleasure.
When I was just out of college, I worked at MIT for a British Cancer researcher. I was a secretary for the lab and one day, he said to me, “You know, Alexis, life is to be enjoyed.” He wasn’t French but he understood the world. He was the one who gave me my first French translation books to use. It took a European to tell me that life is full of joy.
I have met a terrible French person, of course. I am not saying that all French people are good. Of course, not. I don’t even know if good or bad exist. I’m not even sure what those words mean. I do know that joy exists. I know it because I feel it and it’s a main tenet of my life.
This is why I am not terrified. This is why I feel as a global community, not torn apart by a group of people who want chaos. I do not want chaos. I want joy. I choose joy over violence, over dispute, over force, over brutality. I choose humor. I choose cheese and wine and camaraderie among difference. I choose questions and curiosity. I choose good, thick, rich crème and salted butter. I choose Julia Childs when she was in Provence. I choose Simone de Beauvoir’s “one is not born, but rather, becomes a woman.” I choose Monet and Manet. I choose Vincent. I choose my French friends. I choose an America of exploration and possibility. I choose solidarity. I choose love.
And, so, I am sad, but my French friend told me of a word: saudade. A Portuguese word that means happiness and sadness at the same time: a kind of nostalgia. Perhaps, she told me of this word because this how she feels about her France. It’s how I feel about my France too. Because it is my France, just as it’s yours. We are all of us together. We are one. And, I hope we will choose joy.