On the morning of the massacre, I awoke in my normal fashion. Coffee on, time to get up, CBC News. My ever-aging eyes saw only "12" and "Paris" on the news scroll at the bottom of the screen. As a self-declared francophile, I moved closer to the screen to see.
12 what in Paris? 12 new fashions shows? 12 new art pieces? 12 new patisseries? To my horror, my eyes then focussed in on the word dead. 12 dead in Paris.
My first reaction was outrage. How could they? Why did they? What is wrong with the world? As it happened, and this is the weird thing about the universe -- it forces us to address important issues -- I was co-hosting a community radio show on the very topic of comic illustration that morning.
To be honest, I stopped for a minute to wonder if I was having a bad dream. But no, there it was in all its live gory television glory -- 12 dead: 10 journalists, two police officers -- Paris, democracy, western values, all under attack.
I think I was in shock. I moved through the motion of the normal morning. Breakfast served, lunches made, bus met, kids to school, off to work then to the radio station for the weekly show. Would we still talk about comic books in light of the massacre? We had all of five minutes to decide. And decide we did. We ran with it. What else could we do. Give in? Give up? Be afraid? I hardly think so.
In my own exaggerated sense of outrage, I was defiant. Charlie Hebdo would want us to go on with the show. So we did. And that was that. Nothing ground-breaking happened except that we went on with our lives which, under the circumstance, was a welcome banality.
As the day progressed, I watched and listened and witnessed my culture's typical response to a tragedy such as this. All united in our outrage about the whole matter. Twitter was set alight with #JeSuisCharlie. I too thought I was Charlie. I even tweeted as much.
I listened to the defiant messages of world leaders which, "en bref" another great French expression, amounted to the usual rhetoric -- we will not let this change who we are or do what we do and we will get them for this -- phew I thought, life, as we know it, will go on, except for the man hunt, heightened security alerts and millions of people who would march in Paris a few days later. But other than that, it was pretty much the same old, same old.
And then I thought some more. It's not the same. It has to stop being the same. How angry do you have to be to buy guns, plan attacks, kill and try to escape. As if this is something from which one can ever escape, alive or dead. Dead as it turns out.
The French boast Fraternité, Egalité and Liberté which has never included getting away with murder (except for king-killing revolutions -- that, as they say in France -- is "pas pareil ").
Slowly, a mellow sadness overcame me. Maybe I'm not Je Suis Charlie. Maybe I'm Je Suis Sorry. I'm sorry we live in a world where young men (and a young woman too) were so angry and so radicalized that their actions were a viable option for them. Where not a single world leader had the humility to say sorry. Sorry to lead a culture where this kind of violence is a way to send a message of deep dissent. Sorry to be unable to acknowledge a deep and deadly divide. Hell-bent on revenge. Which, if you're keeping score, means we're answering violence and threats with violence and threats and we wonder why it keeps happening.
We aren't Charlie. We aren't Sorry. And we certainly aren't finding the fundamental humility to find a solution.
And then my argument falls apart. I don't know how to fix it. All I know is that the young people who committed these crimes had parents and siblings and grandparents and aunties and uncles and cousins and neighbours and friends and colleagues and employers and teammates and coaches and schoolmates and teachers and doctors and yet, they left us. And they left us long before they fired the first bullet. We missed, and most certainly ignored, the cues, as we continue to do.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to acknowledge that these tragedies belong to all of us, not because we endorse or approve (because we don't), but because we live and walk and share our lives in communities and we have a fundamental responsibility to one another.
Being a community member is a reality, a practicality, a convenience, a delight. But most importantly, as the tragic loss of life this last week in Paris highlights, a healthy and connected community is so much more. It's how we survive, it's how we thrive and it's how we stay alive. Community failed last week. And if we miss that lesson, we fail too.
With all the compassion I can muster in light of this tragedy and trauma, could I be so bold as to suggest the lesson here is that while history will remember JeSuisCharlie, we must never forget that, ultimately, we are #JeSuisNous.
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