Responding to Recent Attacks

By Ann Harris on June 6, 2017

This weekend I attended a friend’s special birthday in the Provençal town of Gap in the lower Alps. The French have a wonderful system where neighbours contribute to communal areas near their houses, and so a dance floor, stage and chairs and tables for 150 people are provided – not bad for simply paying your council tax.

On the first evening, dodging thunder storms, we arrived at our friend’s house for a full 4 course dinner plus cheese. Then we all sat in the lounge (30 people) and two gentlemen, originally from Senegal and Ivory Coast, appeared with drums and instruments. They then proceeded to tell us a long, illustrated story with musical accompaniments. Now I only have schoolboy French – but luckily their diction, pace and acting skills meant I understood perfectly the story of a young man's quest for knowledge through musical ability.

This was a moving tale, told as we listened in wrapped silence. I was acutely aware that I was unlikely to see anything like this anywhere else in my life. Here I was, by chance, witnessing pure genius and a glimpse of another world.

Afterward we were all quiet and appreciative, until we were roused to dance, ladies first, then the men. This was totally hilarious. The ladies' dance was suitably feminine – the men relied on a series of solo performances. And there we were, a snap shot of humanity, right there in the lounge, twenties, thirties, forties up to Lou-Lou in his mid-eighties dancing like a wild man! He remembers the wartime occupation of Paris! And here he is in 2017 dancing with all races, all colours, all types, laughing like a drain!

I was on a huge natural high as we returned to our hotel, really thrilled to have been part of this celebration of life. So then I checked the news, it was Saturday, and my city, where I have worked, and travelled through, and walked around, and enjoyed, and drank, and eaten, and laughed in, with all manner of friends from all manner of cultures, has yet again been attacked.

Manchester and London are not perfect, but they are great cities. I thought about the evening I had shared and the sadness that all who participated would feel on seeing the news.

The next day many of our French hosts shared their shock and sympathy with us – these fellow Europeans, who have been as badly affected by attacks as we have. And I felt so proud of the common humanity of this, our Europe. I felt concerned that we had rejected the EU and were even now planning to turn inward, to shy away from our neighbours, with whom we have so much in common, and who share so many of the values we cherish. Europe has been part of my life for so long the thought of walking away is like beginning of a bitter divorce that I just don’t want.

So what’s my message? These events drive us closer together, the grief we have in common, the stories of bravery the image of hope that emerge, always from tragedy. In a way that must defy all the reasons our enemies felt hey have for attacking.

We must be an outward, inclusive, friendly and empathetic society. In business, in our personal lives and into the future for our children, we must celebrate life with all humanity whenever we can. Those who would seek to divide us are creating totally the opposite effect