Paris: Finding Beauty After Horror

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It’s a cloudy day but sun is fighting through. Blue sky pockmarks the heavens above and I have faith light will emerge. I’m sitting in the stony courtyard of a pizzeria in Groznjan, a town dating largely to the 12th century.

People have probably sat in this very spot for 500 or more years. How many deaths have been mourned here? Marriages lauded? Babies celebrated? Kisses stolen? Thousands over the centuries? More?

The lovely spot where I ate far too much pizza while sipping great local wine.

The lovely spot where I ate far too much pizza while sipping great local wine.

As I type, the laughter of children echoing in the pizzeria behind me makes me smile, despite knowing that, last night, Paris was attacked by terrorists in six separate locations. We still don’t really know what happened, just senseless death and heartbreak and a legacy of fear that city now needs to overcome.

As I visit throughout this region of Istria, I’m forever aware of how much blood and history has been spilled here too. Conquering invaders, inter-village warfare, partisan battles, and so much more. One of the largest exoduses ever occurred in this region, not just peacefully either, and recent enough that some of these people were witness to it. Massacres befell some. Beatings. Tyranny. Intimidation.

The picturesque town of Groznjan.

The picturesque town of Groznjan.

All I feel today, though, is peace. It’s easy, now, to look around and see idyllic streets and picturesque landscape, and think what a wonderful world we live in. I hear Louis Armstrong crooning in my mind. “And I think to myself… what a wonderful world.”

But it’s only wonderful in the lulls. Those pauses between the horrors and struggles. Peace will come back to Paris and the city of love and lights will shine again, but this memory will be etched upon their minds. Amidst the laughing and wine and music and starry nights, they too might remember a time when it wasn’t like that. They might remember last night and the screaming of sirens and the howls of terror.

This is humanity, for good and ill. We shine, we falter, we cower, we rise again. It’s been that way throughout history. It’ll always be that way.

Can we find what we seek just by walking on? I think so.

Can we find what we seek just by walking on? I think so.

If it came down to it, I might die to save my brother, because he’s my brother, and that’s what we do, but I can’t lie to you – no one on this planet can make me angrier faster, or more impatient, than my brother. He’s the only person I’ve ever been violent with, fighting in squabbles as siblings do. This is part of what makes us human. We vacillate between our worst selves and our best. We can’t always be darlings of kindness and joy, but god knows I wish we could.

Last night doesn’t define humanity.

Really, just 10 or so people unleashed a litany of fear and horror on a city of millions. Amidst those millions were tens of thousands who serve the public every day, who, when a bomb explodes, will run in the direction of shrapnel, not cower behind walls like the rest of us so logically would. They’re the ones who shield us, dust us off, patch us up.

For every terrorist last night, there were 500 or 1,000 who were prepared to stand between us and them, to protect us and save us from the bloodshed.

A woman enjoys her peace reading by the centuries-old walls.

A woman enjoys her peace reading by the centuries-old walls.

Today, as I sit here in this near-empty courtyard, that’s what I’m thinking of. People like my brother, who is trained in industrial first aid and has probably saved lives before, those first-responders who will wake in the night with PTSD images in weeks to come and may fill them with horror for years, but who would gear up and run into those scenes again tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever else terror comes.

Evil, pure evil, is seldom found. You must believe this, because it’s true. In between all those acts of terror are teachers who give their lives to work underpaid to influence students for a life to come, artists who struggle to bring us la bella vita, scientists who labour lifetimes to find cures, people who make wonderful food with no dream of becoming rich but instead just trying to bring us mere moments of bliss. There are park rangers, writers, photographers, nurses, musicians, mechanics, and all kinds of people who live an honest life, help their neighbours, smile as we pass by, and genuinely try to be a part of a life I find worth living every single day.

People died last night, but me, I still found reason to remember everything that is beautiful. I found reason to get up today and come out searching for a little town filled with beauty and people who live their lives simply daily, making quality food, living according to principles that have survived through the ages, just like their little village has.

An artist's dog keeps an eye on me.

An artist’s dog keeps an eye on me.

If you’re wondering when mankind will find peace, I’m guessing never. That’s the pathos and the agony of human nature, but it’s also what should remind us how wonderful a world it can be in between all those moments.

It’s the heartache and loss and adversity of my lifetime that helps me to cherish what an amazing day I’m having right now. All I’m doing is typing out this note to you in between sips of wine and bites of a truly delicious pizza. But isn’t that all I need to be happy?

I think so. I think life is as simple as walking away from the horror and finding quiet interludes where the beauty and wonder of the world stands all around us. Because it’s right there, if you want it.

For those who met their end last night, I’m saddened for those they’ve left behind. I’m so sorry for all Paris will have to rise up against and overcome, but I have faith that they will shine again, and that the memories of those lost will not be in vain. I have to believe this. It’s what keeps me going.

Showing 4 comments
  • leonard cameron

    a beautiful read

  • Pamela Paul Cameron

    I found much beauty in yesterday, my baby girl met her big brother. And I might die for your brother as well, but not until I am finished breastfeeding. Maddy hates her formula now that she’s latched 🙂

  • Kelly Bohl

    Well said, Steff. And with beautiful pictures to remind us that there is more beauty left in the world.

  • Administrator

    thank-you for the inspirational photo-essay! amazing writing as always! and picture more yes please 🙂

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