I was just turning thirteen the fall we moved to France. It must have been mid September. I remember being two weeks late starting school. A momentous year. Junior High. My first period. My first kiss. My first boyfriend. And, the first time I remember feeling fear of the world around me.
It was the time of the ‘Algerian Crisis’. It was just a couple of years after Algeria had won release from the reins of a foreign government that had held control of its lands and its destiny for over a 100 years. Internal strife was high, both in Algeria and France. The Algerian economy was in turmoil. So was France. It was a time of great unrest. Of armed disputes and bloody conflicts. A time when men in masks strode into bars and blasted machine guns, firing indiscriminately into crowds. A time when bombs blew up in town centres and hatred grew in the soils that bled the blood of fallen sons and daughters on all sides of the conflict.
I remember that first day we arrived. A man met us at the airport. He piled our luggage into his vehicle and we climbed into the back. As we drove into the city that was to be our new home, he and my father sat in the front seat talking about ‘the troubles’. I sat behind them listening. It was my way. I didn’t want to engage in the conversation with my siblings. I didn’t want more of the bickering and squabbling that four children could engage in. I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to know what the adults were saying and doing and thinking. I wanted to know.
The man who picked us up told my father about the unrest. About a bar on the corner of a street somewhere in ‘the Algerian quarter’ where a group of masked men had walked in the night before and shot machine guns into the crowd. It was that image that stayed with me. Of bullets ripping through flesh. Of bodies falling. Lives ending. It was that feeling of being unsafe in the world around me that struck terror into my heart.
When we got to our hotel, I started to cry. I want to go home, I cried. I want to go back.
Back was to the land across the Atlantic. Back was to that place I’d lived for five years after the last time we’d returned from living on these foreign soils. It was the land of my birth. It was safe. In that place armed men didn’t indiscriminately shoot innocent bystanders dead.
Two bombs exploded on North American soils yesterday. Two bombs that will change the lives of many. Not just those who fell victim to this act of violence. Not just those who were there, who suffered injuries, who felt the blast ripple across their skin. It changes all of us. Because in that blast is the reminder that life is fragile. Life is a gift. And amongst us there are those for whom the gift of life is not as important as the fear that is sown into the hearts of many in their act of taking life away.
My heart is heavy this morning. My soul sick. I am reminded of those days long ago in France where I felt exposed. Those days when I first became aware that this earth upon which we walk, this planet whose air and waters and land we share with each other, holds both Love and hatred. Peace and fury. harmony and hostility. Amity and war.
My heart is heavy today. And I grieve. I must choose. Which side will I walk? Which course will I choose?
And I am reminded. Choose harmony over hostility. Love over fear.
I am far away from those streets of Boston and still, I want to reach out and touch the people of that city and say, “I see you. I hear you. I feel with you the pain of this day.” I want to find just the right words and know, there are none that can make sense of what has happened.
And in my silence, I surrender my fear and pray.