I had returned to the place that was home to me, where I’d lived from infancy until my teen years. I was eager to introduce my friend, Mari Ellen, to the City of Lights, a contradictory place at once shining and shadowed, forcible and fragile, analytical and artistic.
While Mari Ellen took in a small museum near Notre Dame, I wandered to the tip of the Île de la Cité, found a tree to lean on, and settled into a couple hours of magic—book in hand, but incapable of reading because a city I loved buzzed in the air around me.
I knew its sounds and scents, its highlights and hazards, its tastes—all buttery, creamy and thyme-infused. This place formed the foundation of my global heritage.
So when news broke of the terror in Parisian streets on Friday, I watched American coverage on TV and streamed French coverage on my laptop, hearing the familiar dissonance between world views and culture-personalities.
I watched in horror, sickened and incensed. I wasn’t seeing a foreign location torn apart by unfathomable violence, its streets stained with lives snuffed out. Terrace tables overturned and flung about—like the lives of survivors, their futures upheavaled by the horror they’d escaped.
I was seeing my home—a home that still flows through my veins like the Seine and rises in my memory like its towering Eiffel. Like the Place de la République, it attests to my battles lost and won, reiterating a past that seems to fade as time flees on.
Like so many Third Culture Kids whose lives are woven into a multi-national fabric, the breaking news resurrected my “otherness” and reconnected again the worlds that swirl around each other in the kaleidoscope of my soul.
When governments fall and tsunamis obliterate, when updates flash across our screens projecting images of places so casually and profoundly anchored to our identity, TCKs ache.
And we despair of ever being able to articulate our pain. Our horror. Our longing. The visceral chaos of loving fiercely from afar.
We follow the unfolding nightmare expecting to see someone we know, scanning new camera angles for familiar streets where friends might still live.
We ignore the pontificating of scrambling TV hosts and cringe at their easy generalizations. To people like me, these faces they label aren’t of enemies and innocents. Both terrorists and victims look like people we have loved. And still love.
The political hyperbole wounds our loyalties…
our disparate and urgent loyalties.
There’s a sweet and bitter torture to our core-duality.
So as I think back to my hours by the Seine that day, to the simple bliss of passing Bateau Mouches and of nearby children playing “un, deux, trois soleil,” I grieve. I mourn with my city and pray for its healing.
I feel the reborn brotherhood of my French heritage wrapping my heart in pain and courage. Douleur et vaillance.
Shaken and secure, I cling to this promise from the One who truly Rules despite man’s worst intentions: though evil seems to reign, it will not prevail.
Je prie pour toi, ma belle et douce France, écrin de mon enfance.
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