September 25, 2014

"A considerable wave of emotion"

The title of this post is how one journalist described the reaction to today's news that a Frenchman had been decapitated in Algeria. He was 55, married with two kids. He was a mountaineering guide, a specialist in rock climbing. In his hometown, a picture of him was placed in front of the town hall when it was learned that he was captured. Someone had written a single word: "Reviens." Come back. He was held because France is participating in airstrikes against the Islamic State, members of which made good on their threat to kill French people if France didn't stop its participation within 24 hours.

France, it seems, does not negotiate with terrorists any more than America does. 

I know people who love the mountains; as far as I can tell, they are never the root of international conflict. Aside from the natural human grief that I felt (perhaps amplified now that I, too, am a married father of two children), I was surprised to feel the blood of vengeance rise up in me. While I feel outrage and a distinct desire to make the people who did this pay when the victim is American, it startled me to recognize the same emotions and ugly thoughts when the victim was French. It seemed, in simplest terms, close to home.

It was the latest evidence that, with each day, I become a little bit more a part of this community, this culture, this country. I read the politicians' statements, and nodded in agreement when they said that France would never bow to these sorts of tactics. And I will admit a guilty sensation of excitement, namely that I was experiencing this atrocity in a foreign language, reading and absorbing and grasping the facts in a tongue not my own. 

There is a strange feeling when, during a difficult time for a population, you, as a foreigner, learn something new in a sea of misery. Today, I learned how to say, "flags were at half-staff in his hometown" in French. (Previously, on the Governor's behalf, I ordered flags at state buildings across Massachusetts to half-staff when a son or daughter of the Commonwealth died in foreign conflicts.) Despite my best efforts to prevent it, parts of my brain celebrated this new information. Sometimes, living in another world, thinking in another language, navigating a different set of values and customs, you rejoice at inopportune times. It is part of the package, an aspect of the awkwardness that will always be with the ex-pat, no matter how long he stays, no matter how much she does to integrate into local life.

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