Marty Babits

The Middle Ground

The Sun Also Rises

Paris, je t'aime

Posted Nov 14, 2015

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When I was in high school, we read “The Sun Also Rises.” I loved the book, which is interesting since I understood very little of what was going on, given my lack of maturity at age sixteen. Maybe I found it intriguing that every character ordered a drink before and after swallowing a morsel of food. Perhaps I thought I was getting a glimpse into the real life of adventurous adults. Everyone was so world-weary and took their ennui for granted in a way that was hard for me to imagine ever attaining. I dreamed of far away places and, most of all, of Paris, the true protagonist of the novel. On every other page, there were comments on what it was like to be there and the slant of the commentary changed as quickly as ice cubes melt in a whiskey tumbler. Earlier this week I began re-reading this legendary tale and rather than feeling awe-struck by the grown-upness of it all, I marveled at how adolescent the characters seemed. How dreamily vague and confused they were about everything to do with each other.  Except for their heightened awareness of place. They may not have known who they were or what they meant to each other but they knew where they were, in Paris. They were trying on life for size. They were striving to create something of meaning for themselves.  The smoky surroundings were less a mark of sophistication than a screen for a deeper haze of grief and suffering in the aftermath of bodily dismemberment and pervasive grief; the Great War, the one to end all wars, had just ended. I was midway through the narrative on Friday, immersed in the Paris environment.  I read on feeling like one of the very few who had that Grand Ville on my mind. Until I tuned into the media, and the news of what was unfolding  on Friday, November 13th, 2015 blared. The entire world had turned eyes and heart to the suffering that had engulfed the City of Light. Once again, as I had felt on September 11, 2001, the world had changed and would never be the same. I had plans to visit a local car dealership on Saturday, but surprised myself by wondering whether it would be open for business on what was usually its busiest day.  A strange thought to match a surreal moment. Even a pacifist would, at this time, consider the wisdom of venturing into public space unarmed.  Identifying with being normal but not terrified had become extraordinarily difficult.  The need to be trusting was more pressing than ever, but its potentially deadly ramifications stunningly clear. The outer limits of paranoia seemed to expand. Realism seemed, in this sliver of time, to be a Stephen King depiction, Pema Chodron's outlook was elusive. I turned to my partner for reassurance that the world is still a place in which love, romance, adventure and attachment could thrive. Because I want to believe that the sun also rises. But tonight, there is a harsh glare on what was just a short while ago, a more innocent backdrop. The sun does rise, but it also sets heavily. And we are poised to do what we can to bring back a fragile beauty to life that we knew before this horrid and jarring episode. Vive la France!