Remembering a Sad Moment in ‘Gay Paree’

by on August 15, 2016 · 0 comments

in From the Soul, World News

By Ernie McCray

Photo credit: flickr / Sean X. Liu

Photo credit: Flickr / Sean X. Liu

Paris. Maria and I and her family spent 16 days there in late June, literally taken by its beauty and its charm.

I have such sweet memories of our time there:

Our cursing the five flight of stairs to our apartment every time we returned from somewhere;

All the sights, the art, the culture, the fashion, the cuisine; the Metro; the soccer madness created by the Euro-Games;

Eye-shopping in a store with prices way beyond what we could ever pay without suffering tremendous buyer’s remorse, when out of nowhere there came a little fuss and then to the left of us walked Celine Dion, taking a selfie with a woman who was way beside herself with joy, smiling at her admirers, quickly signing autographs, and leaving as gracefully as she had appeared;

Walking along the Seine in the afternoon sun;

Taking a selfie for fun with a woman in the Latin Quarter who didn’t care if I really wasn’t Morgan Freeman (you had to have been there to fully appreciate those moments)…

We had such a wonderful time, in spite of the depressing news from home every now and then about our “gun” problems. But you flinch and take it in and try to move on in your life.

And one day the Arc de Triomphe becomes one of the stops for the day, a delightful day, and you take off walking a few blocks and enter a stairway that will put you right where you want to be and you go to take a step and suddenly:

A young woman catches you off guard, because you didn’t think you needed to be on guard, and blocks your path like a skillful defender on a basketball court, asking pleadingly, “Sir, sir, Do you speak English?” You nod “Yeah.” Then she points at a petition about “The Deaf” which makes a part of you automatically go “Aww” and she practically demands that you sign a petition to save the deaf or provide housing for the deaf or donate books to the deaf…

Speaking no French, I didn’t know. I just wanted to catch up with my party. But this woman wouldn’t move so I scribbled in an area on the paper that was filled with other scribbles and figured I was done…

But she was just getting started. “Can you donate a little something?” she asked. “I don’t have any Euros on me” I lied (although I had five which is kind of like having none)…

“Oh, we take American money.” This woman knew a sucker when she saw one. And she was better on defense than I, a 78 year-old, was on offense so I figured I could reach in my wallet, grab a dollar, give it to this woman, and be on my way.

But, I wasn’t completely as dumb as I looked as I had my wallet in my “front pocket” so it wouldn’t be an easy target for pickpockets, like they tell you in the books about how to travel in big cities in Europe. I hadn’t read anything about being mugged.

So, I took out my wallet and held it snugly in my big old hands and reached for a dollar bill which was there for easy grabbing – and in a flash I was surrounded by several children, the oldest, a girl, being no more than 12 I would guess, just as my fingers made contact with a buck…

These children immediately wrapped their little (but surprisingly strong arms) around me like so many vises holding a wooden board tightly to be sawed, while chattering like a flock of a million birds fighting over pieces of bread being thrown to them in the park, and just as quickly as they had arrived, right before my eyes, every bit of my money was gone, like in a magic trick, and I turned quickly like I was the athlete I had once been in my heyday…

I grabbed the person closest to me. It was the girl. She had my bills in several clumps as the other children had given her my loot. I slowly let her go as I retrieved my money, every single dollar (about $340) and the five Euro bill…

But I will forever remember the look of horror and pain on that girl’s face. Horror because of the scowl I must have had on my face and pain because I know there had to be bruises on her arm as I, energized with adrenaline, held onto her with the force a linebacker would use running down a tailback or a quarterback on a full-out blitz…

I couldn’t help but think as I jammed my wallet into my front pocket to keep it “safe” again, how lucky this girl was that she was dealing with me. I mean, fortunately, for her wellbeing and for mine. in this situation, I knew, instinctively, not to go too far, as I wouldn’t have ever forgiven myself if I had caused that poor girl serious bodily harm. I regret having had to give her a sore arm.

Oh, I shudder to think about what could happen if those children tried their scheme on somebody who would see them only as thugs as opposed to unfortunate children who were taught to be criminals in order to survive.

Paris lost its charm for me in those moments, reminding me that life on this planet can be a bitch, that there is poverty and desperation everywhere, no matter how romantic the city might be.

Every now and then when I think back on our trip, all the enjoyable pleasant times we had, I pause and wonder what’s going to happen to that girl and the other children.

This sad moment in Gay Paree says to me: We earthlings still have a long way to go when it comes to keeping our children safe.

It’s as though we don’t understand that “Young Lives Matter.” Really matter.

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