2015 through the lens of the French Résistance

Members_of_the_Maquis_in_La_Tresorerie

2015 has been a year that has shocked the world. From Syria to Lebanon, Kenya to Nigeria, hundreds of abductions, killings, bombings, and murders have taken place. In a world where instability reigns, it is hard to know where the road will lead next. Politicians have called out from the pulpit to address issues such as immigration, our ever-increasing deficit, and, at least from the standpoint of the United States, restoring the “American Dream.” But what dream can exist without there being a guarantee of relative peace on the global scale – or even at home? It’s illusory. It truly is a dream – it is at present out of reach, and more importantly, out of touch with the current state of affairs in the world.

The threat that we as world citizens are exposed to every day is ever-growing and ubiquitous. A wide range of social classes, age ranges, occupations, and ideologies have been put face-to-face with danger. And though this has been the bleak reality for so many across the globe in the past decades, Westerners are beginning to fear the acts of terrorism that continue to loom over our daily lives.

The attacks in Paris this year have struck a chord in the hearts of many, including myself. Charlie Hebdo will be forever immortalized not simply for the mixed feelings surrounding the content of the cartoons themselves, but as the door re-opening to large-scale attacks in the “Western zone.” Two days later, the taking of hostages in the Hyper Cacher store in Paris shocked the world yet again. In the midst of the January cold, the internet was ablaze with supporters, protesters, and critics of the media surrounding the events. And here we are in a very similar position at the end of the year. A crisis on Friday the 13th where blood was spilled in the name of fanaticism, not faith.

As a researcher of the French Résistance, as well as a university lecturer in French Language, I have often been asked for my opinion on events that unfold relating to the Francophone world. I even had the misfortune of starting the Winter 2015 semester teaching the day after the Charlie Hebdo attack. Students were confused and as a whole entirely sympathetic to those who had lost their lives. Opening my e-mails this morning, I equally had received two concerned messages from students hoping that my friends and family were all right after the attacks. And though I am only one person, I do try to quell many concerns in my own little way.

But these questions have been evocative of the connections between what has proven to be very timely research and the modern state of affairs. The echoes of the past reverberate to the present, and it befits the current questions that are floating in the air today. What should we do?

1940. A dark shroud cast itself over Paris.

The click of boot heels echoed across the streets, as Parisians found themselves under an occupied government. The southern regions of France fell into the hands of the Vichy puppet government. A quiet chaos swept the newly divided country, and those who were scorned by the new National Socialist system tried to slip through the cracks of society to find freedom in other countries or through other identities. Instead of a night of terror, the French were faced with what amounted to be years of living within the shadows, required to submit to an ideology and system of government that radically changed the freedoms that had once been clearly laid out in the objectives of post-revolutionary France: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.

Yet even as the French were under the thumb of an authoritarian occupant, many chose to echo a resounding no. They took ownership of hiding in the shadows and resisted. They fought for what they believed in. They united in creating a clandestine press. They established networks to undermine a system that pushed the citizens into a state of fear. Old enemies found solidarity across party lines, across faiths, and across regional differences for a common goal – Liberté.

Imagine if those who fought for French liberation had the tools that lay at our feet today? The incredible connection the world has found through globalization and instantaneous technology might have allowed for those who fought for freedom to do so in an even more sophisticated manner. Though not every citizen had the courage to combat directly against the regime, the common citizen played their part in the best way they could, no matter how modest.

Many of the actions taken by the Résistance movement in 1940s France can very well inspire us in the modern age as to how we can do our part to fight back against acts of terrorism as we have seen this week. Distributing clandestine press could translate into sharing important information and news articles through social media in the modern age. Fighting against the propaganda imposed on the citizens could translate into becoming educated on the subject and not simply jumping to conclusions when a terror attack has struck. Both situations required a certain sensibility – an open door should someone need assistance in a tragedy and a certain level of knowledge of how to defend and protect oneself to the best of one’s ability.

It is wrong to take a fully utopian perspective and imagine a perfect world that could exist if ‘everyone would just get along.’ Everyone won’t just get along. Humans are born with a competitive nature that drives them to try to surpass others through natural instinct. People who hold certain ideologies will always be in diametric opposition to someone else. And there is certainly someone who will always dislike what you do, no matter how righteous or just you might think it is.

Therefore, the best way to resist against terrorism, hate, anger, and prejudice is through solidarity. Though you might disapprove of what another might have to say, that person should possess a right to liberty and equality within society to express themselves in a way that does not mortally harm another citizen, nor place another citizen in a position where their basic liberties could be compromised or reduced.

Let us do our best, then, to minimize hatred and maximize understanding. Resist against those who wish to compromise the safety and security of humanity. Stand up against those who spread enmity. Educate, don’t retaliate. Fight towards the liberation of humanity, towards a world that values all of the individual pieces that combine to create life’s many-hued mosaic. For though you may be only one person, only one light can help us see better through the darkness.

Liberté pour tous. 

Claire-Marie Brisson


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My life in the French Countryside

11738057_10153383473671830_1302924004465310505_nIrigny, France – Photo: Claire-Marie Brisson.

Living in a small city in the French countryside has taught me that in some places, life is lived at a much slower, much more enjoyable pace. I have contact every day with the neighbours who live next door and down the street. Whenever I meet someone new, it’s as if I’m already known. The fields reflect soft light as people cross through their rustic paths, the sound of farm animals a variable soundtrack in the distance. The dust coats your shoes in a most welcoming way; you wouldn’t even think to wash it off. The days are long, hot, and earthy. We eat what’s fresh from the land and drink wine at lunch, wine at dinner. People stand and chat, walking chimneys whose cigarette smoke billows above their heads. The sky arches above stone-cut homes with histories far older than any of us could remember, winding streets cutting sharply through the hills. To think that I am here – that this way of life will be forever etched upon my own life – makes me very grateful to call myself an irignoise, at least for a summer.

Parallax

Between the earth and the sky
billions of worried people racing
to climb to the top of an invisible ladder.
If they’d stop to fill their lungs with a different wind
they’d discover that the ladder is a mirage
built on the dreams of another man
who, like you, floats upon this tiny speck
that spins in a direction that none can control.
– Claire-Marie Brisson

Why I Teach – A Journey

imageStanding in front of a classroom full of thirty students might sound daunting to some, but to me, it’s the most invigorating part of life. The first day of class, the students flow into the room and sit in the sage-coloured chairs, their outfits crisp, their eyes perky, and their lips sealed. The weeks that follow, the students begin to start wearing sweatpants, their hair becomes frazzled, and they sometimes skip. At the end of it all, it’s as if they had run a marathon. Some run to the finish line confidently, others proceed with caution, and still others sit on the sidelines, procrastinating until the last minute. As I write this today, I am seeing off another talented batch of students as they finish their final exam.

Along the journey, these faces become the mosaic of a teacher’s life. From the very first moment that I taught in a high school classroom as an undergraduate student with big dreams, to where I am now teaching university students who display extraordinary determination and passion, each of my students remain in my memory. Thousands of students will stream in and out of my life in waves throughout my life, and for that I am most thankful.

Teaching goes beyond a career for me. I wake up in the morning and smile, despite any personal upsets or feeling ill. My students are like a reset button for me. Entering the classroom for me is seeing rows upon rows of individuals that I am able to educate, inspire, and motivate towards their goals. They may not always complete every assignment perfectly, but that doesn’t change my perspective of them as individuals. After they leave my classroom, some keep in contact, others leave forever. Sometimes life will create a chance encounter where you’ll meet again, and that’s the beauty of teaching – wherever my students will go, I know I’ve made just the smallest difference in the world.

It’s in helping my students that I feel the most rewarded. Teaching the subject matter is one thing, incorporating it into my students’ lives is another. When a student approaches me for extra information about a subject, advice in their general life, or simply wants to reach out and share something with me, I feel enriched.

My students leave me with a trail of cards, souvenirs, and memories, and I am forever grateful for them. They are small tokens that remind me of the good times shared in class and the smiles they brought to me. I continue to learn the art of generosity from my students. Though life may not be easy for them, particularly in their role as students, they never fail to make me feel appreciated and happy.

Though my comments may sound idyllic, many fail to recognize how much of a time investment teaching is. “You only teach for two hours every day? Oh that sounds like a dream job!” exclaim my friends who work cubicle jobs. There is indeed a lot of flexibility in teaching at a university, however, consider the time that goes into preparing lesson plans, PowerPoints, handouts, quizzes, exams, review sheets, and on top of all of that being accessible to students, and you have a whole different perspective. Moreover, most university lecturers don’t just teach at one location to make a livable wage. Teaching isn’t the easiest life path, but for me, it is certainly the most rewarding.

Out of all of the experiences in my life, I continue to be the most grateful for my career. In so many ways, the love and support that I feel while teaching surpasses the feeling of being a millionaire. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it certainly can’t buy you the chance to see so many incredible minds at work. As I look at the stack of exams that I dread checking to finish up the semester, I realize how lucky I truly am to have had such a positive experience with a myriad of stars that continue to blaze their paths through life. Thankful doesn’t even describe it.

Claire-Marie Brisson

Incorrigible Youth

image Age. The saying goes that it’s just a number, and in truth it really doesn’t matter how many times you’ve made a full revolution around the sun, it matters what you take from it.

As with every year, the days preceding and following my birthday (26 April) tend to be a time of reflection for me. It’s a time that I’m grateful for all that has happened in my life – good and bad – because I see how it continues to make me develop and reevaluate my perspectives. I equally think about all the adjectives that represent the multiple facets of my character, and how those grow as I do.

Despite the sand that continues to accumulate in the bottom of my life’s hourglass, I realize that I will forever identify with having incorrigible youth.

Now what on earth do I mean? Incorrigible usually has a negative connotation implied when it’s defined. To me, it’s life’s greatest blessing.

Though we may mature, grow, age, get stretch marks and wrinkles, and have our hair fade to a soft grey or become a dry desert, we must always nourish what’s inside – our heart. It’s within your heart that you should raise the anchor and let your passions set sail. I’m incorrigibly in love with life, and giddy with the happiness of youth. Youth is the burning fire that continues to be rekindled within my heart, and it has no age. The moment we forget how it feels to muddy a pair of shoes running through a grassy field, the joy of standing in the rain, the true sweetness that comes from observing the smallest things in life – in that moment we forget that life’s treasure box exists.

One of life’s treasures is sharing a true laugh with someone. Laughter is one of the most sincere emotions I know. Share it. It’s catchy. Laughter is the song of the child that still wishes she could wear a tiara outside while riding a bike. It has no hidden agenda.

Though my exterior may look studious at times, hardworking at others, and on some days even glamourous (or at least, I do try) my inside is graced with an incurable youthfulness. In anticipation of my birthday, I celebrate the child that I was, am, and will forever be, even when I’m 100. Embrace your quirkiness and love your child within – they’ll be glad you’re not neglecting them anymore. 🙂

Claire-Marie Brisson