Terrorists killed his wife in Paris. A year later he still won't hate.

By Nora Krug

Helene Muyal-Leiris, who was killed in the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Photo / Courtesy of Antoine Leiris.
Helene Muyal-Leiris, who was killed in the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. Photo / Courtesy of Antoine Leiris.

The familiar Facebook prompt - "What's on your mind?" - beckoned. Antoine Leiris was in the darkest moment of his life when he decided to type his answer.

Leiris' wife, Helene Muyal-Leiris, had just been killed in the terrorist attack on the Bataclan concert hall in Paris. She was 35, and the mother of their son, Melvil, then 17 months old.

"You stole the life of an exceptional being, the love of my life, the mother of my son," Leiris began (in French), "but you will not have my hate. I don't know who you are and I don't want to know. You are dead souls. . . . So, no, I will not give you the satisfaction of hating you."

The message was shared by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, who responded with an outpouring of affection for this young father and journalist and his humble and resilient spirit.

Nearly a year later, Leiris has published a book, You Will Not Have My Hate.

The slender but powerful memoir begins on November 13, the night Helene went missing. It ends 12 days later as Melvil leaves the cemetery where she is buried. Eloquent and spare, the book takes the shape of a diary of memories and emotions, left for his son, and for us.

"Does anyone ever really die for anything?" he asks. "It could have been a reckless driver who forgot to brake, a tumour that was slightly more malignant than the others, or a nuclear bomb. The only thing that matters is that she's no longer here. Guns, bullets, violence - all of this is just background noise to the real tragedy now taking place: absence."

He writes, too, about his discomfort with being seen as a hero: "I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that's all. It did not ask me what I thought first," and his fear that he won't be able to meet our expectations. "Will I no longer have the right to lack courage?"

As sad as the book is, it is also punctuated by moments of humour, mostly provided by little Melvil, and by the tenacious message at its heart: to move past hatred. The book ends with Melvil laughing as his father hops in a puddle.

Leiris spoke about the memoir and what he hopes we will learn from it.

How do you feel about becoming so famous after your Facebook post?

It was a surprise. It was only for my family and friends, and I didn't realise the consequence. The words came to my head, and so I put them on the computer and after that I just posted it for the people close to me. The post was not that important to me at the time.

But now?

I'm a father, first of all. I want to raise a child properly, and I am focused on that and on continuing writing. I'm not thinking so much about what happens with that letter. It's part of collective history. It's not mine anymore. It's outside of me. It's feeding itself.

What made you decide to write this book?

I think it was about the moments of writing itself, because you know, at the time I was really lost in myself and I felt alone sometimes. I felt like I was suffocating. Writing was a way to take a deep breath and continue breathing. I didn't want to escape from the reality - the memory of Helene, my grief and Melvil. Writing is like an open door to a land of freedom. Your imagination is the limit of it. I wanted that freedom, but I didn't want to escape from my reality.

How do you feel reading it now?

No, I have not read it. For the corrections to the manuscript, I had to ask the editor in France to come to my place to read out loud. It was hard for me to hear.

How are you and your son?

We are fine. We are fine together - it is okay.

Have your feelings about the terrorists changed at all since the time you wrote about them last year?

No. Because I think it's more than my feelings. It's my thoughts. My instincts were to hate them and erase them from the surface of the Earth. But after that, I have to think: When my gut is telling me something, my reflex is to ask my mind, 'What is okay?' I thought at the time: Hatred would take all the space in my life, and I don't know if I am strong enough to deal with that.

What message would you like people to take from this book?

I want nothing at all. I am just an average man - these are not the words of a superbrain or superhero. The meaning, the consequence of that, is that everyone is able to think the same way as I do - maybe not the same words - but to have the resources to think the same way. Ask yourself how you would react to terrorists. I think that's what matters really. We know how much politicians are capable of. But one person plus one person plus one person can make a social reaction, take social responsibility.

What do you say to people who are filled with hate and anger?

I totally understand them. But it's not like I am judgmental. Each person deals with hate in his own way. Hatred is there. Fear is there. But you can overcome it with reflection. But to reflect on it really, first you have to look it in the eye, embrace it - then you will be better able not to submit to it.

- Washington Post

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