It is early Sunday evening after a rain shower, when Tony and I head out into the streets of Paris. We stop at Saint Eustache and catch the tail end of mass. We shift from tourists on a walk, to peaceful, reverent, grateful human beings. As we meander Paris streets, it starts to rain again. We pop our umbrellas and sink into the moment.
We cross the street into the second arrondissement and find the regular street gives way to a paved street of particular beauty: cars are absent, the streets are clean, and trees tower. We have found the pieton (pedestrian) only district, a quiet, idyllic place in the extended heart of Paris. As we come upon a busier street in Montorgueil, lined with restaurants, trendy shops, and strollers just like us, a woman crosses the street and just in front of us, she lays a beautiful white peony on a piece of stone marked like a grave.
Paris is a city full of grim tragedy, and the city's fathers and mothers haven't hesitated to mark the spots of historical tragedy with brass plaques and engravings. Casually shopping on a quiet street, one may come upon a spot where a resistance fighter was shot down in 1944. He is memorialized with a plaque in the side of a building.
We stop to read the engraved sidewalk. The marble memorializes the last man condemned to die in Paris for homosexuality. The year was 1750. It should have been the last year that any human being died because of who or what they were--gay, Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Tutsis, Indian, female, Armenian, Bosnian, ...oh the list could go on almost forever...
It isn't until the next morning, now evening in Florida, when I read about the Orlando attack, and I understand the solemn, mourning face of the woman who placed the peony on the memorial.
When I consider the light of the world, I am perplexed by the darkness that still exists, yet the woman's simple act of kindness reminds me of Rabbi Schulweis' words: Evil will not distinguish the goodness in the world, it will illuminate it.