On Friday the 13th 2015, 7 terrorist attacks transformed Paris into a battlefield.
I was not in Paris that day, I was in Tokyo, where I currently live. Still, learning what was happening, woken up by my girlfriend telling me "It's terrible, there are shootings everywhere in Paris right now." is an extremely sobering experience.
I spent the day online, learning about family friends who were hurt, former teachers who died... I still can't get it out of my mind. Living the attacks of January from afar was already a traumatic experience, but it felt unique, it felt it was awful but it would not happen again. Not only did it happen again, but it was even worse.
Later that day, a friend sent me this.
The words are touching, and the public, global reaction did warm our hearts. However, something bothered me (apart from the fact that I am not credited anywhere as a photographer).
Let me rewind a bit.
Right after high school, I was brought into a religious cult. I will not name them here, they don't need that kind of publicity, but they count millions of followers, millions who, like I did for years, go to church twice a week, turning their name tag (if you don't, you receive a call asking why you did not come to church).
People from this religious cult weren't bad. Some were my friends, many were my colleagues, one of them my fiancee. Looking at it, coming to church, you wouldn't say it's a dangerous cult. We would sing songs for 45 minutes, chanting lyrics of joy, glory and happiness, all in the name of the lord... then a minister would "explain" some parts of the Bible, in a rather... first degree reading. They did not believe the Earth to be very old.
But something always bothered me: sometimes, after the songs, the minister would tell the attendance to stop speaking to a certain family, lest they would be banned from the Church, and forbidden to interact in any way with the members of the Church. These kind of instructions were sent worldwide, which meant that the people who dared getting out of the cult would loose, very often, all their friends, their job, sometimes their houses.
It took me years, and all my strength, to leave this cult. I left friends behind, colleagues, mentors, my fiancee, a very promising job. It was the hardest decision that I ever had to make, and it would make me cry every day for months.
But life went on, and I made new friends, and we started new projects. One, especially: a movie, about a man who loved someone he shouldn't, against the advices of his friends, and who finally changes his life for the better. I gave myself entirely to this movie. The last scene that we shot was at the top of the Montparnasse tower, and I took this picture.
This is the picture that turned my life around. This is the picture of the precise moment where I felt I made the right choice. I remember, at the top of the Montparnasse tower, that gorgeous glow that hypnotized me, that feeling of freedom. Exactly then, I knew that it would be ok, and that religion would not rule my life anymore. No more praying before leaving my home, no more praying before eating, no more praying before bed, no more praying for two hours twice a week. For some, this picture looks like a nice postcard of Paris. To me, this is the moment I felt liberated after leaving a religious cult I was in for years.
Later, it also became the first picture I would win an award for, and the first picture I ever sold (for an ad for Air France !). This is the picture that always remind me that following your heart and your guts can pay off, and I tell this to everybody who wants to hear it.
Back to Paris, Friday the 13th, 2015. While I read the statement from ISIS, I cannot help but remember how sure all these people were, in my cult, that they were right. When they would hear you were not in the church, they would say "I will pray for you", meaning, "You will go to hell because you do not believe what I do.".
Prayers are not helpful. They are not what we need, as a society. If it makes you feel better, fine. Pray by yourself. But don't call others to pray. For many of us, it means nothing. For some of us, it means even more pain.
My advice to help people going through this? I have none. I am not telling you to pray, or to tell your loved ones what you feel. Let people act as they feel, whether it's being alone, going out with friends, making love or music. But telling them what do do? This is the opposite of liberty, the opposite of why people died for that night.
Don't tell us to pray. And certainly not by using my pictures.