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I want to say something that matters.

I am feeling it instead – just feeling, without understanding.

That must mean I am failing as a writer.

Or am I surviving as a person?

Maybe I don’t want to know.

Or is the true meaning here about perspective?

All I can say is: I love Paris. And to the French people, who shared our pain in 2001, I am so, so sorry for your suffering. We watch from afar, wishing it didn’t have to be this way for you. Or for us. We hear the threats. We wonder. Again.

I must do something. I don’t want to feel hopeless. Or helpless.

So I write. It’s what I do. I keep my hands busy at times like these. Find a familiar place, I tell myself. Herd your words to a spot on the hill where the view is expansive, where there is shelter from the wind, where the sunlight falls in front of you and warms and exposes. Be a shepherd of ideas and feelings.

For now, though, clarity eludes, shadows loom, understanding evades.

From your streets, from your concert hall, from your restaurants and your soccer stadium to our streets and homes, please know we mourn with you.

You are not alone; we walk with you through these dark patches.

Along with you, we seek meaning and definition but seem so often to grasp nothing tangible in the haunted vastness after unexplainable tragedy, sensing instead the presence of unknown shapes with unrecognizable textures. I would like to hear words of reassurance about our shared future, but none come, not even in whispers.

“Keep going.” That’s the only idea I can muster, the closest I can get to conjuring a sense of resiliency while realizing meaning, congruity of purpose and understanding – all remain out of reach, still, for these long days lost in space.

Photos in the newspaper draw me in – glimpses of tragedy, informing and depressing. Captions: Tending to the wounded. Bullet holes in glass panes next to unbroken wine glasses on a shelf. Unscathed crystal exists within the shattering, alongside the destruction. Then the video images: Water spraying from a hose, washing away blood on a city sidewalk.

I scanned the front page of The Washington Post this morning at my neighborhood coffee shop while I waited for my drink to steam and be sweetened. I squinted. Frowned. I didn’t have my reading glasses with me. I struggle, in many ways, to make sense of what is being said and written. So many letters in print with blurry edges. Meanings cut deep, for sure. I feel compelled to look at scenes I don’t want to see but wish I could understand.

I put the newspaper down. A woman asks if it is mine.

“No, here,” I say, picking up the paper again and extending it to her. “It’s all yours. But you might not want to read it all.”

“You are right, so right,” she says. “But I have to at least look at it, don’t I?”

I nod. She closes her eyes, briefly, and exhales slowly.

I want to write something that matters.

But I don’t know where we are right now.

Soon I’m leaving the parking lot, coffee nestled in the drink holder to my right. I edge nearer to the intersection so I can see around the bushes.

I look to the left, then right, then once more to the left before accelerating.

I am not talking about what matters. I wonder why.

Now, as I write this, I realize: I am not sure where I want my thoughts to take me; I am not sure where my writing should take me.

Here is the way it looks to me at this point: I don’t know where the greater wisdom rests, or where I can go to find my own version of enlightenment, or how to pursue such ideas.

I am sad and confused, frustrated and scared.

Now another thought: This is only the beginning.

The beginning, yes, and I have found no way to make this puzzle start to take shape. Not yet. I am not even sure if the pieces are all here.

Shapes, colors, patterns, links – I’m not making connections.

Not yet.

So I will go back in time.

I choose to remember the long walks, Paris beautiful whether cold or hot, the art, the wine, the food. And the people. The city became a refuge so many times for my husband and for me when our work as foreign correspondents became difficult to bear. After our son and daughter were born, it became our family’s magical city. Oh, the memories. And now, new memories dominate, sad ones that won’t go away.

For now, we must strengthen our resolve to continue to stand together, to work together, to fight together.

For the people of France and for victims of terrorism everywhere, we are with you in spirit. That is true in the spring time, and in the fall.

And we are not giving up.

Not ever.

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5 thoughts on “Paris: Putting together the pieces

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