In the face of such unspeakable horror in Paris on Friday evening, words fail.
We are left with sounds and gestures: sounds of mourning and grief that need no translation; gestures of comfort – an arm around a shoulder, another’s hand tightly grasped; gestures of solidarity – flying that beautiful country’s flag; and gestures of defiance – lighting a candle – row upon row of candles – a light in the darkness, a light whose fragile, flickering flame holds the hope of life when death seeks to extinguish it.
It is true that death occurs everyday; it is true that nature’s disinterested hand spins the wheel of life and death randomly and at will – not even capriciously as that would require an intention behind it, and there is no intention. In the face of such death, we huddle together and muddle together as best we can – and such compassion and mercy is expressed that is little seen in the everyday.
But death in a massacre is something altogether different. It is one human against another human. It reveals an enormous fault-line in what it is to be human. One human filled with hate intends, plans and executes the demise of another – and many others – whom they do not know and have never met. This is not death at the hand of a passionate, jealous lover or rival. It is hate that shows the absolute failure of a human to be a human. In its wake, words fail.
Yet what it is to be human must not fail. It must not lead us to live small and in fear. It must not lead us to live lives of quiet desperation – to act and love and live as if there will be no tomorrow, as if this might be our last day, to keep us cowering behind our doors, barricaded in so that we never meet another.
Our act of defiance is to live in the expectation of a tomorrow, and another and another. To be a human among other humans that smile and laugh and love – passionately and brimming with life: to sit at the roadside cafe and sip our coffee and read our papers, and jog the roads and riverbanks, and walk the dog, and take the children to the park as they bicker and spin, and embrace and look deep into the eyes of your lover, and smile at that one over there who is no stranger – just another human that you have not yet met. Human to human. No words are necessary.