My family warned me about going on the trip. The phone calls, text messages, and emails came in rapidly after eight members from varying sects of ISIS executed a calculated attack in the 11th arr. of Paris, just miles from the hotel I had booked for my Parisian vacation.
Upon getting the news, I scrolled through my newsfeed to follow every horrific detail of the attack. Watching along with the rest of the world I noted the ever-increasing body count. An attempt to blow up a soccer stadium. A massacre in a concert hall. And a barrage of bullets in a quaint café. All signs indicated that Paris was an unsafe travel destination.
But, I had one day before deciding if I would move forward with the trip that my friend and I spent the last six months planning. The thought of having to cancel was devastating but more importantly, knowing that lives were being taken at random left us unease. After praying and feeling a sense of calm we decided to go.
The City of Lights – known for being the most romantic city in the world – is now marked by its resilience. From the moment we arrived my friend and I could sense the perseverance and unyielding stubbornness of a hope that doesn’t bow to evil. And yes, there is a staunch heaviness carried by those who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. There is sadness accompanying unity and mourning joined to joy. In this juxtaposition of pain, I believe Paris has found the recipe to triumphing in tragedy. And I believe it is a recipe, we as believers, we have known for sometime but will do good to remember.
Here is what I believe Paris can teach us about dealing with tragedy:
Acknowledge the Pain: When we stepped off the plane clouds hung over the sky with the sun peeking out. It was almost a foreshadow of the day to come. Waiting for our luggage at the turnstile an announcement came through the loudspeaker that at noon, a countrywide moment of silence would be observed. Parisians and visitors sat quietly as the city reckoned what it had just endured. Though we were from different background with different stories what was familiar was the understanding of pain. And together we acknowledged that it was present-that it was real. This is not unusual following an attack the magnitude as seen in Paris, but what was interesting was the length of time we were asked to remain silent: one minute.
This was an intentional pause, a moment to truly sit and feel the weight of the pain from Friday’s loss. Any time shorter than a minute would have been a glance over what happened and anything longer would have been to linger in the sadness.
When we are faced with tragedy God doesn’t call us to overlook our hurt. Even though God is greater than the temporary inflictions we endure, He makes room for us to acknowledge what is hurting us. King David wrote in the Psalms 6, “Be gracious to me, O’ Lord, for I am languish; heal me O Lord for my bones are troubled. My soul is greatly anguished.”
To push through tragedy we must first acknowledge our pain.
But Look Forward: Honestly, I was shocked at how normal Paris seems to be following the attack. Parisians everywhere are moving ahead carrying a sense of pride that they won’t allow terrorism to keep them from believing in a better tomorrow. When President Hollande declared a mandatory curfew for the city, Parisians took to the streets. This was not done out of rebellion but to show that the city is not willing to stay seated in its pain. Paris can acknowledge what was hurt while looking forward. And so can we.
The Apostle Paul, who wrote a large portion of the New Testament gives us an example by saying, “…But one thing I do: Forgetting the things, which are behind me and stretching forward to things that are before, I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the High calling of God in Christ Jesus.”
Triumphing in our tragedy (whether imposed on us from the outside or brought on by our own sin) means looking forward to God who sees the depths of our pain and who has already made concessions to turn our ashes into beauty.
Love Your Neighbor: The French, like New Yorkers, have a bad reputation for being rude, indifferent and dismissive. If that were true before our arrival it hasn’t be easy to detect now. So far my friend and I have been greeted with warmth, compassion, and unmerited kindness. There is an undeniable unity sweeping across the city. The eyes of the Parisians are a little softer as they move forward with tragedy now in the backdrop of its history.
From my own experience I know that trauma has a way of softening our hearts. It is a reminder that when all hell breaks loose what truly matters in life first and foremost unwavering love for God and unbending love for our fellow man. Jesus encourages us succinctly, “A new command I give you, love one another.”
When all hell breaks loose what truly matters in life first and foremost unwavering love for God and unbending love for our fellow man.
Until the day of Jesus, our world will always be filled with measures of evil. Pain resulting from that evil will always be lurking at the door of our hearts. But, we don’t have to break under the weight of tragedy. If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far from my time in Paris it is that light truly does drive out darkness. And as Christians we are carriers of the ultimate Light. Because of this, darkness cannot remain.