Fluctuat Nec Mergitur - The Motto of Paris, by Night, on Place de la République © 2016 Chant Wagner
One of the things that struck me today, as the French were commemorating the victims of the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015, was the fact that some of the survivors expressed a feeling of being forgotten by society...
Apparently, there is no serious, sustained, therapeutical effort over the long term at helping the victims slowly reengage with normal life. The association Life for Paris explained that since the events, five of their members have already died, four from a heart attack - although none had a family history of cardiac failure - and the fifth committed suicide due to severe depression. Post traumatic stress is recognized on paper and can be triggered even some twenty years later according to the administration, but in real life, victims are reportedly left to their own means, especially the ones who suffer from so-called psychological "invisible wounds."
In front of the Bataclan on November 15, 2015. The street is crowded with shocked Parisians. This is the first attack in Paris which feels like an echo of the WWII period © Chant Wagner 2015
What they have experienced, beyond the physical horror that some compare to having walked into a concert hall which looked like a Nazi concentration camp, is a sense of a breakdown of what it means to be a human being, of the safe limits of civilization. They know now, in their flesh, viscerally and instinctively, that virtually anyone walking in the streets could turn into a monster. If they hear a sound that is a bit loud, it signals a possible aggression and a repeat of their lived nightmare. They avoid all sorts of banal items of everyday life because they are potential traps, in their minds - and we all know, in reality at this stage of the terrorist wars. We know that any car can turn into a weapon, but we are not obsessed with the idea because we are not traumatized. We just consider the notion. Unlike non-victims, their bodies shut down when they get too close to the place where the ordeal happened.
Progress can be made but it takes time and understanding - and probably professional training. Parisians are less extrovert than New Yorkers, say, so it is less in the culture here to celebrate abundantly and publicly feats of everyday heroism and survivalism.
The same street in from of the Bataclan, strangely empty, by contrast, in winter of 2016. © Chant Wagner 2016
So, while we may retain a sense of justified pride at how well and collectively, the French, and Parisians in particular, showed resilience, true to their motto Fluctuat Nec Mergitur (it is tossed but it doesn't sink), we must not forget that for the survivors of the attacks it is something unspeakable which has happened to them - and it could happen to anyone - something that tests their belief in humanity and the tenet of human kindness. And it is not an intellectual idea for them, it is just a concrete reality, a reality from which most of us are shielded like children sleeping in a nursery, confident that nothing really grave, mad and absolutely and crazily unnecessary can suddenly disturb our lives beyond a point of no return.
Let us not forget.