I haven’t felt much like posting anything in light of the horrors happening in Beirut and Lebanon and Paris this past week; any comment on my own life would seem trivial. While I grieve for lives lost in all sites of war and terrorism, it is human nature to grieve more when there is a direct connection, and so I was hit hardest by the events in Paris.
Just a few days ago – on November 11th – I posted a picture of my mother in Paris, taken during her posting there in World War II. She had volunteered for the forces, trained by them as a teletype operator, and sent to France to work at SHAEF under Eisenhower’s command. For a young woman from a small English village, this was an experience she might never had had otherwise. She both loved and hated her war years; loved being in Paris, but hated the war, hated being privy to the reports of actions and deaths that she transcribed in her job, loved the camaraderie but hated the losses. As, I think, would we all.
But I am here today because my mother was sent to France, to Paris, because among the other female troops there was a young woman named Catherine. They became friends, and after the war my mother went to visit Catherine and met her brother Harry. Two years later they married.
I’ve only been to Paris once, for ten days twenty years ago. We walked the streets, took the boat down the Seine to look at the architecture, climbed the stairs to the top of Notre Dame. We ate in cafes, visited the galleries, took the train out to Versailles where my mother had actually been stationed, climbed the hill at Montmartre. All the touristy things. I loved the city, and I am not a city person at heart.
My mother died almost three years ago, well into her nineties. I am glad she did not have to witness the horror in Paris this past week. During her time in France, at some point the building she was in was bombed. She was buried for some hours, but otherwise unharmed physically. She seldom talked about it. What we did not realize until the day the World Trade Centre was hit was how deep the psychological scars had gone: watching that horror, watching the buildings fall, overwhelmed her, triggering a series of physiological reactions that ended in a stroke. She did make a full recovery (with the help of a nursing home director who found ways to find her psychological support as well as physical rehab) and went on to live another twelve good years.
But I can’t help thinking how she buried that psychological wounding for nearly sixty years, and wonder what the psychological wounds of those who witness the violence and destruction of this past week will be, and what the scars are for those who have been witnessing – and living with – violence and destruction for so many years now. So when I mourn for Paris, I am mourning for so much more: for what my mother hid for sixty years, for the toll it took on her, and the toll that violence takes on everyone, whether it is Paris, or Beirut; whether it is from terrorism or war, or from a gun in the hands of the wrong person, with or without a uniform. I have no answers. I only know all lives matter and grief is universal, and that we may not know the true price for so very many years.