This is Remembrance Sunday and for me that means remembering both those who died in battle, but also those who died as civilians in a war which is no longer confined to professional soldiers or geographically limited battlefields.
You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris (transl. Sam Taylor) is a perfect way to commemorate the Paris attacks of November 13, 2015. Antoine’s wife Hélène had gone to the Bataclan concert that evening, while he stayed at home to babysit their 17 month old baby, Melvil. A day or so later, Antoine wrote a moving open letter on Facebook addressed to his wife’s killers, which quickly became viral.
This very slender volume builds on that open letter. It is a collection of diary entries and reflections, a poignant story of life after loss, of learning to cope in the face of tragedy, and refusing to be cowed or to descend to the level of hatred and vengeance.
Not many people understand how I can so quickly get over the circumstances in which Hélène was killed. People ask me if I’ve forgotten or forgiven. I forgive nothing, I forget nothing… of course, having a culprit, someone to take the brunt of your anger, is an open door, a chance to temporarily escape your suffering. And the more odious the crime, the more ideal the culprit, the more legitimate your hatred. You think about him in order not to think about yourself. You hate him in order not to hate what’s left of your life.
There are so many poignant little details about grief here. Losing oneself in the routine of feeding and bathing a child, so as not to have to think. The home-cooked baby meals prepared by the mothers at Melvil’s nursery, which he never eats, because he was used to supermarket meals. Learning to cut his son’s fingernails for the first time. Resenting the meter reader because he represents life going on. Choosing the clothes for his wife’s funeral. It is unadorned, heartfelt and full of love, and it made me weep.
Watching from a distance, you always have the impression that the person who survives a disaster is a hero. I know I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that’s all. It did not ask me what I thought first. It didn’t try to find out if I was ready. It came to take Hélène, and it forced me to wake up without her. Since then, I have been lost: I don’t know where I’m going, I don’t know how to get there.
There is no egocentric posturing here, it’s a simple account of grief and learning to live, while fearing the possibility of forgetting. We don’t find out anything about their jobs or politics. All we hear about is their love for each other, for music and for their child. A story stripped to its bare bones and all the more beautiful for it.
As for why he wrote the book:
It will not heal me. No one can be healed of death. All they can do is tame it. Death is a wild animal, sharp-fanged. I am just trying to build a cage to keep it locked in. It is there, beside me, drooling as it waits to devour me. The bars of the cage that protect me are made of paper. When I turn off the computer, the beast is released.