When life happens, so often we want to hide. We want to numb out, or disappear in our thinking minds, or find a mountain of chocolate.
But what happens when we stay present? When instead of running we stay with ourselves – with that hot feeling, the contradictory thoughts, the tightness of chest?
And what happens when we not only stay with ourselves, but we write from that place?
The result is that we capture something real. Something that moves us and our readers in large or small ways. Maybe even moves the world.
My most recent teacher of the power of writing from this place is my daughter Chloe. She was visiting Paris for the first time when the recent attacks happened. In fact, she arrived just hours before it all began. The next day, she sat on a street corner and wrote…
How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words. – David Foster Wallace
I wasn’t supposed to be safe. I was supposed to be out having dinner, having a drink, walking home. Seven places around the city that I could have been, but wasn’t.
Seven places around the city with hundreds of ordinary people like me who got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. People who cannot say this morning how grateful they are to be alive. People who never got to send their “safe text.”
This morning brings a dark tint across the city of lights, a somber heaviness that creases foreheads and turns down mouths. The streets are scarce, closed signs peppering the windows and guards standing in corners with assault rifles. We hear sirens and our breath catches in fear, unsure if there is another attack down the street, another body to be buried. I see kids swinging between their parents’ hands, sheltered and naïve and still believing in the inherent goodness, and my chest hurts for the world they were born into. My chest hurts for the pain we all collectively feel, the pain that hasn’t yet touched their inner light but will soon dim even the brightest of candles. My chest hurts for the people who didn’t wake up this morning, the people in trauma therapy, and the people who have been exposed to hatred for so long that they thought murder was the answer to our problems.
We try to smile, try to stay hopeful, but today not even the beauty of Paris can hide it.
The hours before the attack were a magical bubble, our first glimpse into the sheer majesty of the city. Lights brought a cozy comfort to sidewalk cafes, shops were filled with a rainbow of macaroons, and the city seemed to sing in the crisp autumn air. There was a glow that permeated every alley, a hopeful kiss in the crevices of the lacy architecture. I felt an overwhelming sense of love for nothing and no one in particular, a love of life and beauty and the sweet sensations of France. We were dancing in a dream of gently falling leaves and Nutella crepes and a lilting ballroom language, gazing over the rooftops from the steps of an intricately woven cathedral.
Then the bubble popped. And now we are riding a wave of tears and smiles, gazing in wonder at the Eiffel Tower yet feeling sick to our stomachs to be sightseeing on a day of mourning. A moment of awe, overcome by the ornate statues carved impossibly into walls, then the sudden reminder that everything is closed out of respect for the deceased. Every photograph captures precious works of art, and yet photos feel wrong and intrusive. Almost as if our tourism is dripping with the rotting air of exploiting a funeral. A moment of sunlight on the Notre Dame, a moment of asphyxiation.
There is no precedence for how we should feel, nothing we can compare this to. It is simply everything that it is, being in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on the dawn of its darkest day.
– Chloe Scarborough