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Not Making Headlines

photo: st urbain church, troyes

The Saint-Urbain church in Troyes.

Paris Life - No 3O

by Laurel Avery

Paris:- Friday, 19. December 2003:- At 8:04 on Monday morning the light will begin to return once more. The Winter Solstice is something I have always paid attention to, no matter where I happen to be, but for some reason the darkness has seemed infinitely deeper this year.

Paris is at a latitude that I am as yet unaccustomed to, it being even further north than the most northern city in the lower United States I have ever lived in. With sunrise at 8:41 and sunset at 16:54 that doesn't leave a lot of daylight. Happily, the weather has been uncharacteristically cloud-free for the past few days, so whatever hours of sunlight exist turn the streets to gold.

I have been suffering a pre-solstice funk that has put me in a mood where nothing seems uplifting. All the news I read is depressing, people are constantly honking their horns outside my window, as if the delivery truck blocking the way will actually move if they honk often and vociferously enough.

And the French government wants to keep people from expressing one of the few things they have left to hang on to in uncertain times - their faith.

The French government's wish to ban the wearing of personal religious symbols in state schools and civil service workplaces, be it a Muslim veil, Jewish yarmulke or Catholic cross is just silly. Isphoto: icon in niche, troyes the faith of the average French citizen so shaky that seeing someone wearing a head scarf is going to make them an instant convert to radical Islamism? Get real!

Having to listen to other people's cell phone conversations in public is a personal intrusion into my private space, but you don't see the government banning public cell phone usage.

I would think that it would be more advantageous to keep people from sporting Chanel sunglasses or those Louis Vuitton bags, which are major symbols of another faith - the Holy Church of Abject Consumerism. I would think more disruption occurs in schools where students compete with one another to wear the most fashionable designer label.

The French are leery of religion in general, and rightly so. Religions are imperfect institutions created by imperfect men. France has had its share of kings who believed they were the earthly representative of God - though it seems most politicians still believe this about themselves.

Under the old regime people were oppressed, murdered and subjugated. I can understand wanting to keep a reasonable separation between church and state, knowing the church can be at least as corrupt as anything the state can come up with. I don't want to be confronted with people proselytising in secular places either.

But those great soaring cathedrals were not built by the République. They were created by people whophoto: sign, rue de la synagogue were inspired by faith to build architectural wonders to the glory of a greater power than themselves. They did not construct them so millions of tourists could do the "If it's Tuesday, it must be Chartres" tour.

They were created out of a passionate faith. And this faith created some of the most beautiful and inspiring architecture in the world. Somehow, I don't see those same men being so inspired by the construction of a new France Télécom headquarters.

Suppression of faith has never led to good things. Muslims are already marginalized here. They all too often live in substandard conditions and are treated as second-class citizens, even though most of them are French citizens.

Keeping them or any other religion from expressing a symbol of their faith will do nothing but encourage the very fundamentalist militancy the French are so afraid of. A happy, prosperous, free people do not create social problems. It's faith that gets people through the dark times in their lives.

But despite how things appear, therephoto: synagogue, troyes are still people filled with faith out there, whether they are able to express it openly or not, and that gives me hope. It is inspiring that 'The Return of the King' is doing so well at the box office.

We need more tales of common people reaching into themselves to find uncommon courage and strength of character in a world where we see so much of the opposite. There are still people out there who are giving of themselves and making a difference in the world in their own way. They just don't make the news headlines.

So I've decided to shut off the radio and TV, quit reading newspapers for a while, and try to do my part in reminding people that there is still beauty and light in the world.

It's important for me to be a person to whom joy is not just an occasional visitor.

Text by Laurel Avery © 2003

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