The news broke during our church family’s European campus conference and so did our hearts. 129 lives snuffed out. We prayed. Our words got all tangled up as one of our French sisters wept. My moist eyes found hers and held them. After a pause, we did something that didn’t immediately make sense to me. We smiled at each other.
This morning, I asked myself why we smiled. Looking back, it didn’t seem appropriate somehow. Smiles are for happy moments, right? The happy moment you see the friend you haven’t seen in too long and your joy shines out through your face. The happy moment you taste the first forkful of chocolate cake. The happy moment you realise that the guy you like likes you back and your smile reaches beyond your mouth making your eyes crinkle up at the edges.
Smiles make sense when you’re celebrating. How do they fit in when a hundred and twenty nine of your friend’s countrymen just got slaughtered?
“It’s ok, they might have guns but we have flowers,” is how one father reassured his son. It didn’t quite seem to fit.
“But flowers don’t do anything…”
“It’s to fight against the guns.”
“It’s to protect?”
“… The flowers and the candles are here to protect us.”
Look carefully at the video below. After these words, the father, the son, and journalist do the only thing that makes sense at that point: they share a smile.
You see, the father, the son, and the journalist know something the terrorists don’t. As Islamists celebrate one hundred and twenty nine deaths as a victory, smiles and flowers protect our hearts not from bullets but from becoming hardened, from becoming like the terrorisers. Smiles and flowers signal a rebellion against the tyranny of fear, making the public declaration that we have chosen to side with hope.
When my french friend and I smiled at each other we were communicating from a part of our hearts that cannot be shot. Our smiles didn’t ignore or diminish the reality of her pain. Instead, my smile assured her that, while I didn’t know what to say, I was here for her, with her. Her smile recognised that and thanked me. Together, we hung onto hope.