Dear France

Dear France,

I’m so sorry for the horror you went through yesterday. You suffered a massive loss, a painful wound. You were struck by a faceless enemy who thrives on inciting fear, who dwells in the shadows and strikes without warning.

The same enemy attacked my country. And I can tell you, your country will never be the same.

Your current generation of young adults will be profoundly impacted by this, in both good and bad ways. They will grow up fully aware life can be brutally taken at any time, but they will learn to appreciate it even more. The concepts of liberté, égalité, fraternité will take on a new meaning as this generation enters the workforce. You’ll see an increased interest in public service careers, in law enforcement, in government work. For many, this tragedy will impact the direction they choose for their lives.

You will develop an even greater appreciation for those who serve – not just the armed forces, but law enforcement professionals, medical professionals, first responders. While masses of people were rushing out, they were rushing in. You won’t forget that visual.

You will feel closer to your countrymen/women. Nothing unites people with the same intensity as a common loss, a shared tragedy. You’ll be talking about it with your neighbor, your waiter, the person next to you on the metro. You will feel united in your pain.

You will hold your loves ones a little closer, a little tighter, a little longer. You won’t want to let them out of your sight, but you’ll know you have to. Because as much as you wish you could freeze time and wrap them up in a bubble of safety, living doesn’t happen inside a bubble.

In the coming weeks and months, you’ll learn the answers you’re craving. You’ll discover who and how and why. The who will give you a direction for your anger, a responsible party to blame. The how will help you work toward preventing future tragedies. But it’s the why that will haunt you. Because there is no why sufficient to justify taking innocent lives. No why will be enough.

You’ll examine this tragedy from a myriad of angles, trying to understand it, trying to find some perspective. You’ll hear a thousand different opinions thrown at you.

If you hear nothing else, I beg of you to hear this: you cannot triumph over hate by embracing hatred; you cannot best terror by yielding to fear. It is only when you refuse to hate and refuse to fear that you render the faceless enemy utterly powerless.

Over time, in small degrees, this wound will heal. Your country will be whole again. But it will bear a scar, one that aches sometimes and reminds you of that day. Don’t hide the scar. Don’t fight the pain. It’s part of you now, a piece of your identity. A battle scar declaring that fear cannot destroy France, that evil shall not triumph here.

But how do you get there, to that place of healing? After you mourn your losses and find those responsible, what do you do next?

You live, sweet and beautiful France. You savor every breath and refuse to let fear alter your path. And with every step forward, every moment you embrace, you claim victory.





P. S. I forgive you for exiling my ancestor. You accused her of blasphemy and shipped her off to Louisiana. I’m over it, though. I wouldn’t exist if you hadn’t sent her away.

the body snatcher

I was about eight when I encountered my first corpse.

It was at the funeral of a woman my grandmother knew, the woman from whom we’d bought our piano. Which apparently meant we owed her the courtesy of attending her funeral. My brother was the one who’d been playing piano since he was like five, and as luck would have it, he had a piano lesson. Convenient excuse. So I got to represent the family by attending the funeral with my grandmother.

Attending my first funeral would have been disturbing enough. But this one had a viewing. That’s right, everyone filed up to stare at a corpse. Because that’s not weird at all.

So I found myself standing with my grandmother at the edge of an open casket.

My grandmother was studying the body. “Doesn’t she look good?”

She looked dead. I didn’t particularly care whether her makeup was expertly applied. I couldn’t get over the fact that she was dead and we were standing there looking at her like she was an exhibit in a museum. After a few minutes of that, we followed the crowd into the small chapel along the side of the funeral home.

Once everyone was seated, they rolled in the casket. No pallbearers at this funeral. They rolled it in like a dessert tray. My mind flashed to a worst case scenario, and I could see the whole thing playing out in front of me: one of those wheels would hit a bump, causing the cart to tilt. The lid would fall open and I’d end up with a corpse draped all over me. But at least she looked good, right?

I’m sure the service was lovely. I was too busy staring at the casket sitting in front of us. Did we really need it in there? It wasn’t like we were going to forget who was dead. Granted, the lid was closed, but I couldn’t figure out why it was important to have the casket in the service with us.

After the service was over, we all journeyed to the cemetery for the burial. An electric motor lowered the casket into the ground with a mechanized whine.

And that was that.

My grandmother and I walked around the cemetery, her pointing out people she’d known, me trying not to step on bodies. Some of the plots had sunk down, slumping like a kid at the back of the class.

“That happens with older caskets,” my grandmother explained. “They start to collapse after a while. Sometimes they bury other people on top.”

It wasn’t a fact I really needed to know, but it lodged itself squarely in my brain. No shaking that one out. Between the lesson on interring humans and the viewing, I’d had my fill of corpses.

I slept in my brother’s room for a week after that. Other kids were afraid of monsters under their beds. I was afraid of dead bodies, was sure I’d swing my feet out of bed and step right on a squishy corpse.

People ask me why I write murder. I guess I don’t seem like the type. I’m not emo, all black hair and nails, and I don’t look like Stephen King. When I say I write books, I bet most people assume I write romance.

Why do I write murder?

Maybe it all goes back to that funeral. Maybe it’s my way of facing that childhood fear of dead bodies, regaining control. Instead of letting them haunt me, I’ve snatched those bodies up and put them in books. I create the bodies. I choose where they are, how they’re found, why they died. I have taken that which used to scare me and have used it to create story.

Granted, I’m not going to be hanging around morgues or funeral homes any time soon. But I can tell you, they know how to make the bodies look good.