“You expected to be sad in the fall. Part of you died each year when the leaves fell from the trees and their branches were bare against the wind and the cold, wintery light. But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen. When the cold rains kept on and killed the spring, it was as though a young person died for no reason.”
Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast
Paris is an ancient city. People have lived in the geologic formation known as the Paris Basin since man lived in Europe. The Romans conquered the Celtic tribes living along the Seine two thousand years ago. She would be conquered many times since. Conquered by the Franks, by the rule of Charlemagne, by the plague. Conquered by the Catholic Church, by the absolute monarchs of the house of Bourbon. Conquered by the Rights of Man that led to their bloody revolution. Conquered by military genius and one last time, by Nazi Germany. Paris is no stranger to crisis and defeat. But there’s something very different about her, for she cares little about it. Paris’ conquerors have conquered Paris the way a bird in flight conquers the sky. They are sudden and limited while she is vast and enduring. They are changed much more by her than she is by them for Paris is different than other places. She is the city of lights. Lights illuminating all that is beautiful and artistic of our kind. She is the romantic conscience of our species. She is our right brain. And those that attacked her last night, are something far less.
This disease, this scourge of reckless hate won’t end easy for any of us. But end it will. It always has. The cause of hatred and destruction is a losing one whose fate is marked for the distant memory of the past. Briefly for the present. Never the future. For we are sentient beings. Our capacity to create and innovate and grow and love and care is our most powerful, defining characteristic. Our ability to hate and destroy is, like those that perpetrate that cause, something far less. There are more of us than there are of them. And I don’t mean something as basic or simple as race, creed or nationality. I mean those that have goodness and love and wonder in their heart far outnumber those whose light of progress and conscience have gone out. From time to time, that group takes territory in small gains that feel much larger. But always, they are beaten back and destroyed by the will of mankind. The past 15 years is one of those times. But we must remember our numbers. Remember our force and will is stronger than theirs. The end they desire will never come. Our resolution is a function of time and our ability to cross the bridge of doubt and despair to a place where we understand that this too, will pass. Perhaps not on its own and perhaps with harsh and costly action. But it will pass.
When Hemingway wrote about Paris, he spoke for all Americans who envied her illusive and incomprehensible beauty. What happened there last night, doesn’t change any of it. His words ring truer still. ” “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” It still is.