Were I a more disciplined French student, I would be writing this entirely in French. As it stands, I will beg your forgiveness for writing this letter in English, so as not to embarrass your lovely language.
I am writing to offer my condolences regarding the recent events you have had to endure. I am so sorry for your loss--of lives, of safety, of joy. I cannot know exactly how you feel, and I cannot say, honestly, "je suis Paris," because I am not. I can however, tell you that I am here, if across a sea, and that my thoughts are with you. My heart goes out to you, and it breaks for you.
We only met a couple of months ago, and only for a few days, but the impression you made on me has been and (I suspect) will be ever-lasting. You were so kind to me, and so welcoming, and as I read the stories and see the pictures now being passed all over the world detailing the attacks you have just faced, though I weep for you and your citizens, I do not see as a city of blood and shattered glass, fear and hate. I see you as the City of Light that you are.
I am transported in time to a late August afternoon, walking the streets of Paris alone, awash in the beauty of the city. I am standing on the Pont des Arts, looking down the Seine towards Notre Dame. I am turning around and seeing for the very first time, the steeple of the Tour d'Eiffel. I am smiling ear to ear, gasping joyously, because this architectural marvel that I never truly appreciated until I met you, is beckoning me. "Bienvenue, Chère, bonjour. S'il vous plaÎt un rester certain temps." That is what your famous tower says, because that is what you do: you welcome. You welcome new friends because new friends bring new life, and you so embrace life. You are a city that so well knows how to live, and that is what I see. That is what so much of the world sees.
To you, life is a couple dancing all night on the steps of the Academie Nationale de Musique. Life is musicians playing in the courtyards of the Louvre, friends having dinner along the Seine, neighbors talking politics in the cafés. Life is art and beauty, liberté, égalité, fraternité. Life is wine shared on restaurant terraces. Really good, really plentiful, wine.
You are not perfect, of course. Like my city, like so many cities, your "liberté, égalité, fraternité" is not always true for everyone. You have your own acts of hate, inflicted on people just as innocent as those you just lost, and I think of those people now, even as my heart breaks for you, because my heart also breaks for those of the Jewish or Muslim faiths that you have, at times, lashed out at. I say this not to hurt you, mon ami, but to remind you: we can all be better. Overcoming this loss, this terror, is not just about winning out over people practicing in hate. It is about acknowledging, understanding, and shedding our own hate. As I write, in empathy, to you, I sit in shame for not writing to Beirut or Baghdad, the Syrian refugees that have not yet actually found refuge, and so many others, in my country, yours, and across the world, that have and do face indescribable oppression, fear, and hate. We can all do better. I say this, because I so strongly believe it about you.
I believe when I see, behind the pain and hurt and the anger, signs flying across Parisian balconies reading "Amour," that you truly mean it, and can mean it for everyone.
Your citizens, whom I met walking your streets, talked with sensitivity and empathy about "what happened to Charlie." They asked me, not with accusations or an agenda to advance, if I "heard about Charlie." Charlie Hebdo was spoken of as friend, not a place. These same citizens did not then blame any one person or group for the hate they had witnessed. They talked about moving forward with new thoughtfulness and understanding, and that in order for you, Paris, the wounds inflicted upon you cannot be the only ones tended to; that the wounds you have caused, ignored, or harbored, must now also be cared for and prevented.
I believe that you are poised to match attackers' hate with love, intolerance with acceptance, darkness with light, and I believe this because of what I saw of you and of your people. I believe this because strangers gather along the river and in courtyards to dance to street guitars players, store owners and restaurant servers show visitors how to navigate the streets and the Metro, taxi drivers happily entertain half-conversations with visiting Chicagoans trying and mostly failing to speak their high school French.
Not everyone claiming "je suis Paris" rightly can, but you can rightly claim to be part of all of us. People who have never stood on your bridges, eaten in your restaurants, visited your tower, love you anyway. They cry with you, hope for you, mourn alongside you anyway. When you shine again, they will rejoice with you. You are not just France's City of Light, you are the world's City of Light, and we love you.
Je t'aime, Paris.
Meilleurs vœux, Mac