I had something else prepared for today but, once again, the world is rocked by terror. The people of France are dealing with the aftermath of yet another horrific terror attack. Last night, as thousands celebrated Bastille Day in the beautiful seaside town of Nice, men with hate-filled hearts drove a truck through the crowd, shooting and running over innocent people.
My friend Patricia DeWit, lives in France and just returned from a relaxing holiday in the very spot where this attack took place. Eight months earlier, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks took place near their home in Paris. Pat wrote the following article in response to those attacks. Unfortunately, these words ring true for her and the people of France yet again.
In childhood I truly feared …
Frankenstein coming up the stairs
A werewolf under my bed
A tornado flinging our house into the air
A house fire in the night
War, atomic bombs and nowhere to hide
The Rapture, being left behind
My parents getting divorced, or worse, being killed in an accident
Getting head lice
In adulthood I truly fear …
Getting into a horrible car accident
Losing a child
Losing my husband
Losing my parents or siblings
Getting murdered in the forest
My children getting head lice
They say that except for the fear of falling and the fear of snakes, all other fears are learned. In the past year I have seen something. It taught me to be afraid.
Terrorism came like a hardball through the window and rolled to a stop at our café, La Belle Équipe. When terror hits your city, you can’t just hide beneath your bed.
If we slept at all on November 13, 2015, we woke up feeling the aches and pains of survival. We got our coffee as usual but cut our feet on the shards, leaving a bloodied footprint on the cobblestone streets.
I felt small, like sitting where my feet didn’t reach the floor. We called on God and angels and doctors. Each siren’s wail was another raw prayer. With each flatline in an emergency room, someone’s walls collapsed.
When terror comes to your street, for a while you don’t care about any of the places on the map except one dot that says “you are here.” Surviving is painful because it is underlined in the red ink of someone who didn’t.
After terror we wait for tomorrow because they say that time heals all wounds.
So tomorrow comes. Then another. And another. Slowly you don’t feel quite as afraid, not so jumpy. But nonetheless, that day is a sticker on my suitcase that won’t let me forget “I was there when …”
How am I?
If you had asked me a few months ago, I would have answered, “Not fine, thanks.”
Anyways, “fine” is a word that lies.
If you were asking now, I’d have to say I’ve gotten used to a new way. Take today, for example. On my way home, I stopped on the bridge behind Notre Dame, sat on the curb along with many others, and listened to some live musicians. While the guy was singing the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun,” six fully armed soldiers walked in front of me, with the barrel of their weapons inches from my face.
I know. You want me to be fine, to be filled with faith. And victory. And give God the glory.
I know. You want heroic, or at least missionic-sized fearlessness. (You might remember that I have told you never to see me as a hero for I knew moments like this would come, moments when I’d be unheroic and afraid.)
I have faith. I can imagine a wonderful world again. ONLY I must feel all the feelings first.
After all, isn’t the comfort of God only as great or as deep as our suffering and weakness?
Isn’t His protection felt more acutely in our vulnerability? I admit my weakness and own my vulnerability. I lay my life down for you to witness what happens when God does what only God can do.
Which brings me to The Gospel According to Bob Thiele. He wrote the song that Louis Armstrong made famous in 1967—“What a Wonderful World.” That is quite a hymn; a declaration of faith if ever there was one. You see, at the time the song was written, it wasn’t a wonderful world at all. It was released during the Vietnam War, after the Six-Day War, and it was only six months before Martin Luther King Jr. was killed. See what I mean? Not much of a wonderful world.
Was Bob Thiele blind? Naive? A Pollyanna?
I think he had an ability to shift his focus. He started looking for other things. And he found them. He found the beauty on the top shelf, in the things that war and racism could not touch … a baby’s cry, people greeting one another, a rainbow, and the colour of the sky.
And then it comes. That moment when you shift focus, and you can imagine (have faith for) a different outcome, and your emotions begin to turn around. First Faith. Then Hope. Then …
You knew it was coming.
After terror, love makes you a bit hyperactive when it comes to seeing and appreciating little things. After terror, you see mundane things in a brand-new way.
Everything is made new?
Circumstances are different?
Everything is the same as before, but we make a crucial decision to process things differently.
So this past Sunday I walked to church. I took the long way, through the market, along La Seine, and then crossed the city to the other side. I heard an avocado vendor shouting, “Un euro pour deux.” Two gals dressed as 1950s pin-up girls flirted with their eyebrows as they sang “Clementine.” Children’s chubby fingers sneaked bread samples while parents pretended to scold. I saw grandparents pushing strollers whose handles were heavy with bags of fresh produce and scraggly teddy bears. The man at the crêpe wagon taught his daughter how to make coffee and kept referring to her tenderly as “mon amour.” The bells of Notre Dame rang out much longer than usual, announcing a new “man and wife.”
Is it too much of a stretch to consider all of it as a sacrifice of praise, a collective and very flesh-wrapped sighing of relief in the ears of God? I like to think that for God (who told us He collects human tears), a quickened heartbeat is a standing ovation. In my expression of faith, every time people think to themselves, It’s a wonderful world, terror is defeated and God gets glory. In the midst of this fear and terrorism, the presence of God, the gospel, is the answer and our hope. That is why God has called us here—to show that with God, it can truly be a wonderful world.
(This article originally appeared in the Testimony Magazine. Reprinted with permission from the author.)
Patricia DeWit and her husband, Peter, are PAOC global workers in France. Learn more at https://paoc.org/donate/PeterDeWit.