Fear is a strange thing. Once we are frightened and shocked beyond our bearings we have a choice: to flee, or to fight. Yet most of us take the middle road and just get on with it. Like nothing ever happened – or so it would appear.
On the evening of November 13th this year, Paris was shocked and attacked by terrorists. People died. Others got wounded. And very many got shaken to the core. Yet few people fled as a result. Even fewer chose to openly fight – except of course for France as a country and Paris as a city. Most people just got on with it, because life goes on. Nobody forgot, but nobody allowed terror to reign. Just like London, grown up during 31 years of terror threat.
One Sunday, three weeks later, we sat in a Parisian café on Rue Montorgueil. Croissants were still being served, and steaming hot coffee poured. The marchés were open, and Champs-Élysées was one mile-long christmas market. I thought of how we had to walk through metal detectors when entering a museum. How our bags were scanned before entering a shopping center. And how many heavily armed military men were prowling the streets.
I thought about flight and fight. While most Parisians did not chose flight, perhaps they chose a French way of fight. Perhaps choosing to serve croissants on a Sunday was fight, as well as choosing to open the christmas market? Perhaps going shopping to a bustling Les Halles was fight? Perhaps persisting to the plan of hosting the climate summit was fight?
Perhaps fight is not always a physical fight; to draw one’s weapons and go to battle. Maybe fight can also be the fight of minds: to refuse to fear those cultures we are against our will being conditioned to dread; to refuse to change everyday habits; to refuse to give in to fear. And I thought of Albert Camus: “the only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
I lifted my teacup in a toast to the Parisians. When I picked up my croissant I, too, felt like a rebel – if only for a second.