On a Friday night in November, 2015, French journalist Antoine Leiris kissed his wife Helene goodbye on her way out the door for a concert. He was watching their 17-month-old son, Melvil. It was the last time he would see her alive.
Helene was one of more than 90 people killed by terrorists at the Bataclan concert house that night in what was the deadliest attack on France since World War II. Two days after the attacks, while still trying to understand what had happened to him, his child, his country, Leiris wrote an open letter to the terrorists in a Facebook post (ah, modern life) that went viral.
The powerful, four-paragraph post can be found all over the place online. It begins by telling the terrorists he will not hate them because that is not any way to live, and ends like this: “There are only two of us—my son and myself—but we are stronger than all the armies of the world. Anyway, I don’t have any more time to waste on you, as I must go to see Melvil, who is just waking up from his nap. He is only seventeen months old. He will eat his snack as he does every day, then we will play as we do every day, and all his life this little boy will defy you by being happy and free. Because you will not have his hate either.”
“You Will Not Have My Hate,” is Leiris’ short, understated, emotional book about the way he moved forward in the days following the tragedy. It’s worth reading.
This is not hagiography, though Leiris talks of Helene’s way of making life a marvelous adventure. He does not look back. He is struck dumb by grief, able only to exist in the present, not daring to think about the future.
In stories about great loss, I always find myself moved by the people who show up. The friends and family members who rally around for the bereaved to lean on, and to help him do what he feels needs to be done, even as they all know nothing will change the fact of the loss.
Leiris writes beautifully. The opening scene—when he receives a text checking on him but still hasn’t heard the news of the attacks—is tense and quickly paced and we can almost hear his life shatter. Later, he is more contemplative, but no less compelling.
And, as he knew somehow beneath the grief of that famous post, it’s the everyday things—the routines we often feel penned in by, and the little joys of caring for another—that make him appreciate what he has and understand that moving forward with love is the only answer to tragedy and pain.