Standing with Parisians, under the tricolour

Soon after ‘Remembrance Day’ I find myself symbolically dressed

It wasn’t until I added a beret (because it was howling a gale outdoors and I didn’t want my hair blowing across my face) that I glanced in the mirror and saw I was dressed in the colours of the Tricolour. Freudian, you say? Hardly: a navy and white striped skirt demanded a plain jumper, and the cherry-coloured one, bought recently, went perfectly: red and navy, a traditional match.

We have exchanged the red poppies of peace in Europe, produced originally as reminders never to go to war again, for the Tricolour, which arose from the French Revolution. We stand united with the people of Paris, traumatised since Friday’s terrorism. What our leaders decide to do about this may  look like retaliation, or ‘revenge’.

Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)
Young adults visiting Paris in the 1930s: hardly a more peaceful time to come? (Source: family history album)

For days I’ve wished the rhetoric would stop, sadness at the consequences of all our clashing histories would sink in, and be admitted, and  recognised in as many ways as possible. Busy deciding on whether to write about ‘Christmas, what does it mean to you?’ or ‘Why I write what I write’ for my next blog, I’ve ‘procrastinated’ by working on my novel.

Novel number 3 in the Mullins Family Saga: Love You to the Moon is themed around the vexed question of  what we mean by ‘love’. Constructed to include a variety of expressions of love, the plot should lead towards a catastrophic gesture in which the love (obvious to its perpetrator but not to anyone else) is certainly debatable.

So what do we mean by ‘Love’?

On Saturday, a quote from Martin Luther King was circulating on Facebook. The message, basically, was love can conquer hate. Meant as a message hope, this carries within it the sad fact that hope is so crushable, so disposable, and so easily forgotten.

Martin Luther King was a preacher, and knew his Bible: in the words he chose, he had adapted a phrase, well known and read at most Carol Services. Soon it will be Christmas, and all over Britain crowds, whether normally churchgoers or not, will hear it read: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Sometimes the original Greek phrase is translated as ‘the darkness has not comprehended (understood) it.’ Here’s something so significant for our time. Light shining into darkness illuminates, penetrates, and makes everything clear to see. When we further translate, using love for light, then love being shown to those who do not understand love, and whom we believe to have acted through hate (translated darkness) should be a powerful weapon, or rather, a powerful overcomer, for love doesn’t seek, in overcoming, to destroy.

However … were it that easy!

My motivation for looking at ‘love’ in the next Mullins family series is to try and tease out, in story,  the meanings, and the interpretations, of this so widely and over-used word.  ‘Altruism’ or unselfish acts, given freely beyond duty or  expectation of ‘payback’ has been dismissed, debunked, or denied existence  by thinkers like Richard Dawkins: we all know about The Selfish Gene or we think we do. Every unselfish act is really me-directed. (Really …?)

Alongside that belief, ‘love’ is used when ‘desire’,  ‘instinct’ or ‘desire to control’ would fit the context better. Literature is filled with such uses and excuses. A  banner at a demonstration against domestic violence, especially rape, reads ‘Love shouldn’t Hurt’, but  the obviously contextual meaning  was ‘Sex shouldn’t hurt’. Which was somehow also sad since love, as in generosity, does quite often hurt,  but in a very different way.

The bothersome questions

So, back to Paris, Friday 13th, and the sudden atrocities in the city perhaps most associated with Love (equals sex/romance)?  Emotions poured out, candles and flowers, expressing sorrow, horror, fear: immediate reactions.

A few days on,  if we collectively self-identify with the light/love quote expressed in that and, adopt a Tricolour solidarity as our Facebook profile, what does this mean to us, to  those who were caught up in the events, or to on-lookers?  We need to ask ourselves this question.  Long term, what is this solidarity? And to answer with honesty and integrity. Would we agree to do everything in our power to seek revenge, or to see that the collective reaction of Europe is not one of hatred, and if so, what actually does getting involved mean?  Are our collective hands clean anyway, in historical terms, are we white as pure light, or have we, as  nations, thrown elements into the international pot which is now boiling over?

Are we also fundamentalists, our current fundamentalism being free speech, strangely coupled with a strong cultural preference for secular values? Historically the religious cultural background of Europe, brought over from the Middle East itself, are not control, empire-building or capitalism. Ironically, they are based on a teaching of ‘love towards enemies’ with a bias towards the poor and the disadvantaged. It was for our founder to be the basis for condemnation and execution.

The shadow of revenge

While realising that in pragmatic, realistic terms, air strikes and retaliation may be forced upon the international community, it is horrifying to hear the rhetoric from some international leaders. At the same time, standing back we wonder at our own reactions, hope these are more than ‘knee-jerk’ and whether our love is real enough to stand testing. What do candlelight vigils and bouquets really mean, once the candles burnout and the flowers wither and fade? When the street cleaners clear it all up – which they will inevitably  have to.

How ironic that the attack took place only 2 days after the anniversary of the Armistice: is anyone left alive who can recall that day, and how felt? ‘Remembering’ was instituted so that there would ‘be no more war’, and not to ‘glorify the military’. SInce then, weapons and devices have increased in power and in use.

I return to writing my novel themed around what is love, using that phrase which, analysed for meaning would be found to be meaningless: Love You to the Moon.

Related Articles (which I’ve read in the past few days) you may find interesting:

From The Guardian’s Middle East Editor, Sunday 15th November  (The information here is referred to in Arab Digest, a blog which collects together articles from journalists and experts on the Middle East from around the world)

SheridanVoysey’s blog on Turning the other cheek in an age of terrorism

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