Saturday, November 14, 2015
Last Night I Had A Dream
Last night I dreamed a telephone was ringing. Usually this turns out to be your alarm and you wake up and have this weird sort of urge to answer the phone convinced the president is calling you and oh by the way you're late for school even though you graduated years ago. Gotta love dreams, right? But it wasn't my alarm. It was a Friday night and it was my turn to sleep in the next morning. Matt was mumbling something about letting them leave a message but I still stumbled out of bed, groping for the telephone because it was, after all, midnight, and even the most dedicated of telemarketers in Paris usually give up around 9 pm and turn in.
I didn't even really have time to get worried. It figures that something as horrific as the multiple terrorist attacks last night would have first made it all the way across the big blue expanse and to my parents' tv set before I was even conscious that people were dying so horribly in my city. 2015, it seems, in the most awfully literal way, will have begun and ended with a bang. Last January, as many of you still remember, Paris was touched by terrorism when a couple of men raided the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo and executed many of the employees who worked there. I remember feeling conflicted. I was shocked in the face of such violence and horrified that those men lost their lives in the name of God. And yet, I couldn't raise them up as heroes and martyrs as so many of those around me. There is nothing heroic about mocking the sacred. Belittling someone's faith whether Jew, Christian, or Muslim (and they regularly made fun of all three), does not take courage and freedom of speech does not eliminate the necessity of wisdom in our words and actions.
In the days to come the nightmare unfolded in new and scary ways. I remember going shopping the day after during the traditional January sales--normally a zoo of shopping bags, stressed out shoppers, and fought over shoes. In the place of the usual consumerist crazy marched uniform clad soldiers with big guns and a chill trailing behind their clipped steps. Every shop was talking about it. In Gap they were joking that they should probably shave their beards so as not to be confused with terrorists. I saw Je Suis Charlie badges everywhere. The day after I was at work when my boss informed me of the hostage situation taking place in a Jewish grocery store across the city not far from where good friends of ours live. Without panicking the children we needed to get them inside the school as quickly as possible and stay inside until the hostage situation had been resolved. We took down the sign on the front door indicating that we're a school and the reign of Alerte Vigipirate began. No more parking outside of city halls, schools, prominent churches, or the police station. A heavily armed man was now posted outside of our local synagogue. On Monday we heard that there was another hostage situation, this time only minutes down the road from the school next to a grocery store that we go to weekly. Once again we were tense and on edge; some of our school children live in that neighborhood.
As it turned out, the third attack was mercifully uneventful and not terrorist related but for the first time, my confidence in the stability of my city was shaken. You didn't know where or when the next attack was coming from. The first had been targeted; this, more and more random... It felt as if every troubled and radical Muslim in the city was coming out of the woodwork in angry vengeance. For the first time in a relatively sheltered Western life, I felt truly unsafe. As a Christian, it was hard to know how to position myself. I knew all the Sunday school answers but deep down in my core I knew I needed more than just a platitude. The truth is, I was scared then and I'm scared now. I won't deny it and hide behind a front of pretending that Christians don't ever feel threatened by the overwhelming presence of evil in this world.
And evil it was. Reports are rolling in revealing the massacre of the night before. Whole cafe terraces shot dead while enjoying an evening drink. Young people murdered as they were shot up and thrown grenades at during a rock concert. Bomb blasts during a French-German soccer game. One of my friends, holed up during bible study and unable to get back to her nursing baby for fear of going out in the streets. A fellow parent from church stuck in the soccer stadium with his two small boys trying to reassure them. My coworker, about a week away from her due date lives in the very neighborhood the hostage situation took place in. Thankfully she was actually sleeping when it all took place but not having heard from her, I and another coworker were concerned. Another friend had both her brother, sister and their spouses that went out for dinner in the neighborhood that got shot up. They were just 300 meters away from the restaurant shooting when it happened, thanking God that they had changed their mind about having dinner in that very restaurant earlier. They found refuge with a hundred other people hiding in a hotel basement.
This attack hits even closer to home than last January. The multiple shootings occurred in our old neighborhood, just a couple of blocks away from our former apartment. I can picture the concert hall that was shot up. I can imagine the cafe and bar nightlife well, having walked those streets many a time while living over there. The truth is, I am scared. I live in a city where I might be blown up just taking the subway or having a drink in a restaurant. I knew that before and I am reminded in the most horrific way possible that my physical safety can crumble at any second. But if I stay focused on this chapter in history then I will lose sight of the big picture. God's bigger picture. You see, I believe in a big God. A God who is writing a large narrative; one in which there is heartbreaking conflict but overwhelming resolution. The most joyful of happy endings. I am as baffled as the next person by the ways God moves and the tragedies he allows to occur. The Bible, however, promises a time coming when there will be no more tears. No more suffering. Evil completely weeded out and eradicated. A God who is waiting for the maximum number of souls to find their freedom, peace, and joy in him. So yes, I'm scared. But I also know where to tell my emotions to get off at when they threaten to consume me. Because this isn't the end of the story.