I strolled through the Park on a cold and clear November evening. Underfoot was a carpet of gold and crimson leaves, above was a buttermilk sky. It was one of those days when all was serene, all in my world was peaceful, a moment of beauty that hung like a wisp of smoke in the still air.
Unknown to me at that very moment the people of Paris were experiencing nothing short of hell. Burned indelibly into my brain is the picture of a lady who had been enjoying an evening concert in Bataclan Hall when her personal nightmare began. She climbed out of a window and could be seen clinging to the sill three floors above ground level. She was pregnant. Then you could see someone reaching out a hand to help her.
And there was Jasmine El Youssi, a 20-year-old waitress in Casa Nostra in Avenue de la Republique, who could be seen cradling an injured lady in her arms. ‘I would rather lose my own life than let someone else die alone,’ she said. The wickedness of some is matched only by the goodness of others.
That was Paris, Friday November 13, 2015. Tomorrow it could be Brussels, Bonn, Birmingham, London or even Belfast.
To be fearful is understandable, but if it were to happen here, and please God it won’t, how would we respond? Would we crave revenge? Would we allow the rest our lives to be characterised by anger, bitterness and hatred?
The most powerful lesson we are ever likely to see in answer to those questions is to be found in a most eloquent and profound open letter to the killers who stained the streets of the French capital with blood, penned by Antoine Leiris, whose 35-year-old wife was slaughtered. The letter is pinned to my study wall. Here are some extracts ...
‘Friday night, you took the life of an exceptional person – the love of my life, the mother of my son – but you will not have my hatred. I don’t know who you are and I don’t want to know, you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill discriminately, made us in his image, every bullet in my wife’s body is one more wound in his heart.
‘So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You’re asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.
‘I saw Hélène this morning after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night. Of course I am devastated by this pain, you have that little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with me every day and that we will find ourselves again in this paradise of free love to which you have no access.
‘We are just two, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don’t have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17-months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we will play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free, because you will not have his hatred either.’
Food for thought?