Two things happened on Friday last week. One of them, you probably already know about.
It feels somehow inappropriate to be blogging about the attacks on Paris. I feel a deep sense of sorrow and sympathy for the city, one that it’s impossible to really express. It’s awful whenever anywhere is attacked, but the symbolism resonates. This is a city of enlightenment, love, fashion, wine. But I wasn’t there, I’m not an expert – I’m not even French.
Yet I have written so much about Paris during my working day, listened to radio reports from the Place de la République as I applied my make up each morning, turned it over in my mind as I stirred pasta at dinnertime. It’s in my head. It’s in my heart.
I won’t feel done until I write about it for myself.
So. The other thing that happened on Friday, hours before the attacks began, is that I sat and read Carry On, the new teenage wizarding school fantasy novel with an LGBT twist by Rainbow Rowell.
(“Is this a trivial addition to a serious topic?” you might ask. I would argue not. But my postulations about the importance of teenage pop culture probably are, so I’ll leave them for another time.)
On the surface, Carry On is a self-aware, but still slightly awkward, re-hash of all the magical ‘chosen one’ stories ever written. But once you get past the opening chapters (“Oh, this must be the Hermione character… Look, now we’re at Hogwarts sort of”) there is a compelling love story, and an interesting take on corruption, power, us vs. them mentalities, and how to beat a shifting, terrifying enemy which is intent on destroying the very soul of your society.
Right at the end, a song is mentioned by name: Nick Cave’s ‘Into My Arms’.
I opened YouTube on my phone, and played it as I finished off the final few pages.
And although I’d heard it before, it had never gotten under my skin the way it did then. The deep, mournful vocals wrapped themselves around me, while the light piano promised some kind of hope.
I’ve been playing it almost on repeat ever since – whenever I get a moment alone, through headphones if I’m at work, at least twice as I go to bed.
I’m not religious. I haven’t been for a long time. But playing this song feels closer a prayer than anything I’ve felt in years.
Be safe, it says. Be loved. There is a path.
I’m not saying, obviously, that Nick Cave or Rainbow Rowell have the answer to Islamic State. But time and again at work this week, we’ve returned to the same questions as we cover the attacks:
Is there a way to win this that doesn’t involve hate?
If the enemy is calling you to come and fight them, if it craves a violent response above all else – do you have a duty to refuse to give it to them?
I don’t know.
But I believe in love.
And I’m not going to stop asking.