A Brief Calculus of Mourning

We live in times of unprecedented public displays of emotion. Mourning was all over my social media feeds after what happened in Paris. That, along with ample discussion of the politics of grief. Why isn't Beirut or Russia mourned as much or by as many? Innocent lives cut short by, likely, the same forces of destruction as in Paris.

I live in Brussels, an hour and thirty minutes by train from Paris. And ever since I visited Paris for the first time, I have found it to be a place of amazing grace and beauty. A city that celebrates life like no other. A city brimming with music, art, light, laughter, wine, conversation and cafés -- all in a life-affirming, enchanted and enchanting milieu. In this, I am not alone. There are millions of people from all over the world who think of Paris in much the same way.

And what happened in Paris, a place that is so familiar and so close to home is, for a lot of us, a looming discovery of death. Or, rather more grimly, a reminder of the discovery that we made on 9/11, or in London, Madrid, Mumbai or Beirut.

Like the looming discovery of death in Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem about Margaret grieving.

"Margaret, are you grieving Over Goldengrove unleaving?"

The poem opens with Margaret grieving over the change of seasons, which Hopkins ultimately suggests is similar to the grief over humanity's pre-disposition for sadness, sin and ultimately death.

"It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for."

The world is an unjust and unfair place for a painfully large part of humanity. And that, in part, is what drives these inhuman acts. The world, for a lot of us, is about to become even more policed and militarized than ever before. The idea of being free in Paris, in France and in Europe may not be the same for a very long time to come. All this will also make the world more divided and unfair.

My mourning of Paris might seem selective and biased. Because it does not seem to contain the mourning of similarly horrific events in other, less familiar places.

My mourning of Paris might even seem frivolous, given how it is mediated through hashtags and profile picture changes on screens that bring the outside world, unlimited in its beauty and dangers, in to my living room.

Whatever the appearance of my mourning, could it be, as Hopkins suggests, that it is myself I mourn for?

And myself I fear for?

I, who could have been at that Eagles of Death Metal concert. I, who could have been at the soccer match. And I, who could have been at that restaurant in Canal St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement.

Or I, who could have been at the market in Beirut, just hours before. Only harder for me to picture because my life intersects much more with those of concertgoers, and people at restaurants and cafés, in cities like Paris.

For now, let me grieve for my beloved Paris. And in that grieving, let me be connected with the grief of cities where people have been harmed and wronged.

But know, that whether we mourn for Paris, or Beirut, or Russia or all of them, we are mourning, ultimately, for ourselves.

"It is Margaret you mourn for."