France My Life: Terrorism and School Concerts

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This morning my husband and I stood in a packed kindergarten classroom in Paris and watched the school's two "Grande Section" (Senior Kindergarten) classes perform a number of songs they had been practicing throughout the school year. Pressed in close with the other parents in the small French public school, I was proud to watch my son sing along with the others. He knew all the words and the actions, despite only starting school in here in Paris in March.

It was our first school performance experience in France, and I have to admit, parents are pretty much the same here as they are in Canada. Cell phone cameras out, encouraging smiles and waves for the little ones and great big hugs at the end. The kids squirmed and giggled and sometimes forgot the words, but overall the songs were performed with fun and enthusiasm, and my husband and I were reassured that we had made a good decision in moving to France.

At roughly the same time, in a town outside of Lyon, a terrorist attack was underway. It's only been a few hours since the news broke, so details are still sketchy, but the short version is that a car broke through a gate at a factory for Air Products, an American-owned multinational company. The suspects caused a gas explosion, and some reports have speculated that the suspects intended to blow the gas plant up. After the attack, the body of a decapitated individual was found, as well as flags with Arabic writing on them.

My description of the crime is vague because I am still trying to follow the news reports, but the bottom line is clear- at least one innocent person died today, and the evidence points to an intent to kill many more.

This is the second terrorist attack to hit France since we arrived in January. The first, the attack on magazine Charlie Hebdo staff in which more than a dozen people were killed both at the magazine offices and in the greater Paris area. We had been in Paris roughly a week when that attack occurred, out exploring the area around Notre Dame de Paris when sirens began blaring and emergency vehicles started flying by at high speed.

Paris and the rest of the country marched in a show of solidarity and defiance against the attacks, and my husband and I reaffirmed our decision to move to Pairs. The country went under "vigipirate," which is the highest terror alert level in the country. Doors that were previously unlocked got locked down, making it more difficult to enter public buildings and schools. Bags were checked before entering buildings such as malls. The bus that used to stop in front of the Hotel de Ville got rerouted to stop down a side street instead, and the main library in Paris only allows those who already have a library card to enter, closing it off to the rest of the public.

People were nervous, but life went on.

Until today.

The fact that the attack didn't result in the same number of lives lost as the January attack doesn't change the heinousness of the crime, or the effect on the way people feel in the aftermath. It reminds people that the threat of terror is everywhere, and that it's impossible to guess when and where the next attack will occur.

Which is  the point, really, that these terrorists are trying to make. It doesn't take gigantic, coordinated attacks to strike fear into people, or to remind us that violence can occur anywhere. The idea is to make people feel afraid and powerless, and to sow division among the population. These attacks are meant to turn neighbours against each other, as everyone looks around and wonders who among us is a threat. I hope that in the days to come, an effort to pull together wins out over the impulse to blame the "other."

This morning I watched my son singing along with his friends and classmates from all walks of life, joining together in a show of pure joy. If only life could stay that simple forever. This afternoon my husband, our youngest son, and I will join our older son at his school's year end celebration. The kids will run and play, while the parents will I'm sure talk about this morning's tragedy, trying to make sense out of the senseless.

As we all experience the guilt that comes with the relief that the violence didn't touch our families, I know that I will be wondering about the family of the victim. Will a child be left without a parent? A man or woman left without a partner? How many lives will be altered forever as a result of today's violence?

Maybe it's a bit cliché, but tonight I will be holding my kids and husband a little closer.

And saying a prayer for those who lost the chance to hold today's victim close ever again.

***Seconds before I was about to press publish on this I saw a news alert that at least 27 people have been declared dead in a gun attack at a beach resort in Tunisia and now there are the families of 27 more people to keep in my thoughts today and going forward.