Heartbroken. Another word doesn’t suffice. I can’t pretend to comprehend the depths of this tragedy. An attempt to elaborate on the devastation invading the city from my personal vantage point seems callous, unfair, overreaching. I just want to express my sincerest sadness, love and hope for a place woven into the fabric of my dreams for the better part of my life.
For the confidence, hope, solitude, beauty, inspiration and education this country and Paris have provided me; to my friends that will continue to go about their daily lives under the heavy weight of this failure of humanity, this is the only way – insufficient, meager, naive – I have to say, “I’m sorry. I love you.”
For now and forever, I’ve loved and will continue to love France. You know, let’s be real here: historically, not always a popular stance, for a host of reasons. France is a complicated place. There are policies and systems in effect over there that I find objectively wrong and blatantly offensive. Even so, and even more so in this moment, I pray with all of my heart for her ability to heal, soothe her citizens and somehow shepherd forward from this indescribably painful watershed moment.
I’ve spent about a cumulative year living in abroad France, and I have spent more than half my life studying the language and culture with a unwavering, rapt attention. My journals are filled with dreams of studying in France, living in France; how the country manifests as my north star symbol of what it means to be literate and cultured. There was never any other destination for me. Just the home of Moliere, Diderot, croissants, bread at every meal, cheese, the New Wave, the magical accent. It set my imagination on fire many years ago and the flame flickers always.
My infatuation of the idea of France hurtled toward unbounding obsession when I walked into my first French language class. From the childhood days of dance class, from my passing absorption of what I would come to know as classically French imagery in TV and films, I knew I’d wanted to tackle this language that sounded like a song to me. Later I would learn that the sing-songy rhythm I adopted was a bit more of an idealized affect than a representation of the real thing, but the illusion of pitch, tone, elocution and animation swirled together in a way that captured my attention.
French played to my strengths and bolstered my already palpable enthusiasm. I felt wildly, effortlessly enthralled by the never-ending lists of vocabulary to memorize, the new grammatical structures, the glimpses at a culture so similar and yet very different from my own. As an avid reader and writer, I looked at this language as a yet another portal into another world. Just as I paged through the pages of A Wrinkle in Time and marveled at the transformative narrative power of tesseracts, I looked to French as a fenetre ouverte peering onto new, verdant landscapes.
One of the reasons I love to write is that I love language. It’s also why I love to sing, why I took to performing on stage at a young age. That sort of creativity magnifies the very particular beauty of the shape of things, the texture of words on your tongue when you belt out a gaudy show tune, the shape of your vowels when carefully vocalizing an Italian aria, or you when recite a French poem for the first time, legs trembling and fumbling at the phonetics. Wanting to imitate and improve, constantly wanting to sound better and ameliorate the beauty of the words is what it’s all about.
There are few grades I remember as vividly as my first C in French. My error was common and rampant through the assessment. I learned the hard way what I should have learned in my English classes long ago: you can only conjugate one verb in relation to a single object or subject. I forever flailed in my math classes and never once did attempt at getting to the bottom of a mishap in a similar way. I approached my French language learning with an endearing (I like to think) preciousness that endures today. I looked to the daily teachings as a form of gospel and slurped it all up with a spoon. As I’ve moved through high school, college and in the working world, I’ve seen an earnestness emerge that often stands in place for perfection. I might not be most proficient or talented when it comes to my passion, but I am enthusiastic. Noticeably enthusiastic. I bruise like a peach when I feel like I can’t keep up, but I try my best to tread in the tide no matter what.
Mostly, falling in love with French was easy because I didn’t have a reason. It’s easy to dance along with the music inside your head. It’s easy to move with the rhythm of a language that still calms me when I feel chaotic, that led me to a country that provided me with some of the most beautiful moments of my life so far.
I made a vow to myself at 13 that I would become fluent in French. Staring down at the blue and white textbook, adorned with cute fleur de lys, it stirred up a certain determination in me that I’ve come to know well. It surfaced again when I knew I would study abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. It smacked me upside the head when I knew immediately upon my return from 4 months in sun-soaked Provence that I would return. It charged me forward again when I moved to Grenoble, France.
This determination is a drug. It comes in spurts and charges my batteries, reminds me I have a say and I have a strong will. I lose that in the office. I fear my strong-willed nature at work. I’m a bit indignant by nature and that has hurt me more than propelled me forward in my foray into the corporate world. I love having a job. I love working with others. As in everything, there are drawbacks, and I am a firm believer that living to work scales back the fortitude of my character, for better or for worse.
As everyone I know remembers exactly where they were on September 11th, unfortunately must November 13th exist as a flashbulb memory doused in blood. It is painful for a member of any nation; for a human anywhere, to endure a pain that gripping, immediate. An existential pain that ripples through to the wide reaches of the global community, inspiring reactions of all kinds and of varying levels of taste.
140 character diatribes from scholars and the misinformed, thinkpieces full of wisdom; missives of hatred; tomes of solidarity. Everyone has a say. I don’t know what to say other than, there’s not really anything to say. I pray for my friends. I pray for France. I pray for humanitarianism. I pray that the lights continue to shine in the dark to lead the way and something will happen in my lifetime, or in a lifetime in the near future that corrodes this hate. I will pray. I am not religious, but I believe in hope. I believe in people. I believe in the good that exists.
I am a grandchild of Holocaust survivors. A large number of my father’s family resides in Israel, where terror attacks are not the exception but the rule. In visiting Israel, in making connections with Israelis my age, in learning more about my past and where I come from, the only tools I’ve found useful in trying to process these situations are empathy and education. I am careful to check my privilege. I may kvetch, I may whine (a lot), I may find frustrations. But recognizing the luck and love I’ve experienced in my life thus far…it’s overwhelming. It’s something I try to do every day, but often daily gripes get in the way. But how can I deepen my empathy? What is the path to a better education, a way to help others more than myself?
Empathy and education. Learn from others. Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone enters every day with a different struggle, no matter how large or small.
Within me, France ignites a joie de vivre that will leave me forever endeared to the soil, to the way of life it promotes. At the same time, I’ve seen first hand the grave injustices suffered by minorities in their deeply nationalistic environment. Just as I remember reading poetry with my classmates and feeling lost in a charged moment, a moment unlike I would experience on my home turf; I equally as easily recall a hushed conversation with my Chabad host organizer in Grenoble about the rampant discrimination as a Jew in France. There are so many shades of gray and I have such a small window of experience. But it’s those personal experiences that inform my empathy, and I will continue to show my support for France, show my support for Israel, pray for those in need. It’s the very least I can do.