We had dinner reservations downtown last week. We arrived to a packed house, a restaurant so buzzing with diners and diners-in-waiting, they couldn’t seat us right away.
Folks were lingering over their meals and conversation, not wanting to move along and free up their tables. It was a festive mood, the week before Thanksgiving, and I was glad for it. I think we all were.
We moved off to the side with a handful of other parties waiting for tables. No one seemed to mind much. There were groups of girlfriends, dressed in fall boots and scarves; business colleagues coming in for a bite to eat after work; and couples like us.
I watched and listened as more people flowed in through the doors, greeting waiting friends, catching up on traffic woes, jobs, kids and family life.
The mayor walked in. He was seated right away, whisked upstairs to a private room with a posse of suits in tow. No one seemed to mind this either. That’s one of the perks of being the mayor.
Then it was our turn. Our table was ready.
We followed the hostess through the crowded restaurant, to one of two small tables adjacent to the large windows overlooking the city sidewalk and street. We played it cool, took our seats as we have hundreds of times before, accepted our menus and said thank you before she left to serve other patrons.
We looked at each other. We looked through the glass panes. We’ve been married for 21 years. We knew what one another was thinking.
I caught the eye of a woman at the next table and then saw her look out the window. I did not know her, but I knew what she was thinking, too.
Weren’t we all thinking the same thing? We were playing it cool in the Seattle restaurant that night, but it was Paris that was on our minds. Specifically, the diners who were out in Paris last Friday night, seated at a window table enjoying dinner and wine — just like we were.
I’ve been to Paris twice, once with my children. We ate in their restaurants, at tables by the windows when we could get them because the view was better. There’s so much life in Paris, particularly in their restaurants where they gather to celebrate “joie de vivre” — an exuberant joy of life. It includes eating, drinking, laughing with friends.
Much joie de vivre was present in Seattle that night, but there was also an undercurrent of sadness and mourning. Driving into the city, our stadium was lit up in the colors of the French flag. At least two high rise buildings were, too. It was a somber sight.
There was also an undercurrent of fear. Not so much that it kept us home. But the kind that clouds our thinking.
I hate that I moved both of my feet to the left of the table pedestal so I could hit the floor quicker if bullets flew. I hate that I made snap judgments of the people walking by outside the window, in the same way I started sizing up fellow passengers on airplanes in the years following 9/11.
I hate that my fear-brain so easily overwhelms logic.*
My daughter is learning French. She wants to study in Paris one day and I will put my fear-brain aside when that day comes, and allow her to go. My other daughter wants to study in Spain and Germany. She will go, too.
I will put my fears aside in the same way I swallowed them and kissed my youngest goodbye and sent her to our public elementary school the day after the Sandy Hook massacre . In the same way I shoved my fears aside and sent my oldest to our public high school the day after the shootings at Maryville Pilchuk High School, less than an hour from our home. In the same way our family went back to the movies after the Aurora theater massacre.
Terror happens more often in America than in Europe, but even so, it is so statistically improbable at any moment that it is illogical to hide from it or allow it to alter our lives. More importantly, giving into the fear is playing straight into the terrorists’ hands.
Parisians know this and even in their grief, they are returning to their beloved bistros. Tous au bistros! Back to friends, food, wine and music. Our joie de vivre.
We ordered a bottle of French wine and carried on.
* I could insert a long post here about the Syrian refugee hysteria that has swept over our country since the Paris attacks. That’s the kind of illogical fear-brain stuff I’m talking about. For the record, I fully support accepting refugees and believe the vetting process — instituted by President Bush after 9/11 — is strict enough that we don’t need to “pause” while we make further enhancements. Pausing it endangers too many refugees who need safe haven.