“We’ll always have Paris.”

One of the most famous movie lines of the 20th century was Humphrey Bogart’s farewell to Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca “We’ll always have Paris.”

Paris at night

This week millions of people around the world were jolted into thinking about Paris because of the terrorist attacks that were carried out there. Parisians and tourists sitting in a restaurant or listening to a concert were killed or wounded and thousands others terrified by the sights and sounds of that night.

Although the Paris attacks dominated the news in Europe and America, there were other terrorist attacks this month—in Beirut and Mali as well as other countries. So much death and pain spread across so many nations leaves us with very little to feel thankful about as the holiday dedicated to giving thanks draws closer. For many people this will be a drab and fearful Thanksgiving Day.

But it is good to remember that we will always have Paris—the city has endured centuries of troubles and will not surrender to fear and despair. And we will always have Mali—a country that has been a crossroads of

Timeless, eternal Mali

Africa for many centuries, as well as Beirut, which has been a city since the 15th century BC and is mentioned in in ancient Egyptian scrolls. No uprising of terrorist activity, not outbursts of anger by young men with grievances will keep people from enduring and surviving into the future. So I guess that’s what we have to be thankful for this year—for the endurance of the human spirit. We will always have Paris, and Beirut and Bamako and we will always have people striving to make their way in our harsh but beautiful world.

Perhaps after all a good way to end this would be to consider the familiar Victorian poem by William Ernest Henley, “Invictus”. Although often ridiculed as an overly heroic statement by a minor poet, it may have something to say to us today.

Out of the night that covers me,

Black as the pit from pole to pole,

I thank whatever gods may be

For my unconquerable soul.


In the fell clutch of circumstance

I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

My head is bloody, but unbowed.


Beyond this place of wrath and tears

Looms but the Horror of the shade,

And yet the menace of the years

Finds and shall find me unafraid.


It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

I am the captain of my soul.


Visiting the Past

What is it about being in a history-laden building or viewing ancient art in a museum that fills us with a sense of wonder? A few weeks ago I was in Paris and visited several of the great museums there. Walking through the 15th century mansion that houses the Musee Cluny, the museum of medieval art, it was impossible not to feel a sense of mystery and wonder. The serene faces of the many images of the Virgin Mary were more calming than a dozen tranquillizers. Yet the medieval period was not was serene. Life was harsh and brutal. Peasants suffered through their short lives, prey to hunger, poverty, and the cruelty of aristocrats. But somehow in their art, they showed a promise of what life, or perhaps heaven, could be like. And all these centuries later those faces still fascinate us with a vision of peace and serenity.

It is not only the religious figures in the Cluny that give us a sense of continuity and achievement. I found it touching to see this sun dial carved into the wall of the building. Somehow a dial that has tracked the movement of the shadows in this courtyard for more than 300 years speaks to me of how people’s greatest ideas can survive. We have no idea of who first set this dial on the wall, but his work (and it probably was a man who did it) has helped generations of people mark the time through their days.

Of course Cluny is not the only museum in Paris that gives us a restorative glimpse of the past. The lovely (and almost never crowded) Musee Guimet with its collection of Asian Art has the West’s largest collection of ancient Cambodian sculpture as well as pieces from Japan, China, Nepal and India.

This wooden Buddha  embodies the very idea of peace and disengagement from the trivial cares of the day.

Visiting a city with a long record of its historic past is quite a change for someone who lives in the today-focused culture of California. It is another reminder of how much we need to hold onto our collective past, to think about it, read about it and if possible visit it. We can find a perspective which is not so easy to find in the clutter of media that fills our lives.