Bitter happiness

July 16th is the birthday of my second child. It was also the 50th anniversary of the Rafle du Vel’ d’Hiv.



It was hot and blue, and we walked to the hospital hand in hand to birth a baby who leapt into the world with little help. On that day, fifty years before, hot and blue and full of terror, children were sent to their deaths for no reason other than to ingratiate the authorities with the occupier. We walked in the sun and crossed the river, free as gulls, a future building one new face at a time. In the ripples of river water, silver ghosts whispered of love and sun and lost happiness. On each stone where the light fell, a smile, a cheek streaked with tears, a hand reaching out from a distant past, said, remember, and be happy, for we who were not.


After rain, the sun

shines with joy at your coming—

the river runs on.

Published by

Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

50 thoughts on “Bitter happiness”

  1. Oh–not even sure how to respond to this, Jane! It left me breathless–such joy and such sorrow. There is such beauty in this world, and so much horror.
    Happy birthday to your second child.

    1. She was due on the 14th (fête nationale) but decided to wait another two days. Like the oracle, even if these things aren’t coded messages sent from the supernatural, they are still loaded with the meanings we give them. Today is a day when we celebrate being some of the lucky ones.

  2. Happy birthday to her…
    Let me share a info…I was born on same day of Hitler after 100 years of him…20 April…so yes we few share this type of coincidental birthdate…and I adore them somehow…

  3. Deeply moving, well crafted. I have a poem that I won’t post… I want it to go elsewhere. I met survivors. It’s a mind-numbing reality.

      1. Not if you really study history. There are parallels in our past. It’s just that this time there was the advantage (if I may call it that) of technology and systematic planning.

      2. There’s the technology factor, granted. There have been lots of genocides in the course of history, but usually with the aim of gaining territory. The Turks did it with the Armenians (though we’re not supposed to talk about that one), Cromwell had a go in Ireland, the Hutus massacred the Tutsis, but there was no reason for the genocide of the Jews at all. The Nazis weren’t even Christians. Scapegoats? I can see that, but the rounding up and extermination of the entire European population was just mind boggling. Why?

      3. As a rallying cry for a desperate (they felt) people, brought forward by a man with (so it’s been said) massive charisma and no moral compass. Remember, too, that his ire extended to Communists, homosexuals, intellectuals, Christians of various ilks, etc. Death cults seldom make sense. It helped that he and his henchmen were wizards when it came to corrupting the masses, scaring them when necessary. Think what Jack the Ripper could have accomplished with a few like-minded blokes by his side.

      1. Yes, I can imagine. (I wonder about children born on 9/11….how it’ll affect them subliminally. Hard to believe they’re going on 16 now. Not the same thing I know but a similar “anniversary”.)

      2. I know what you mean. It isn’t the extent of the tragedy that matters, it’s how it’s remembered that counts, and I imagine that you will be having massive 9/11 commemorations for a long time to come.

      3. The logic of the gun lobby—give the good people guns to protect themselves from the bad—just doesn’t stack up, when you see the statistics for the number of children who are killed (or kill one another) playing with a parent’s pistol.

  4. Bittersweet life is … your daughter chose a good day to be born for she can live and laugh and be of value where those others, helpless and hapless were sacrificed at the alter of evil. I wish your daughter and you as her mother a happy birthday and many many happy returns and I thank you, as I ever do for your sensitive soul.

    1. Thank you. She is beginning to calm down and become more serene, after being a turbulent and ‘chimerique’ child and young adult. She started off life with a twin, but she, the larger of the two, hogged all the space, and in the jargon of the midwife, absorbed her twin. I’ve always felt that she had two personalities to cope with, and maybe an irrational sense of guilt. It’s an idea that might be completely fanciful, but it fits her volatile behaviour that used to be tremendously generous and thoughtful one minute and hurtful and ugly the next. Human nature is a very complicated and tangled web.

      1. I don’t find that fanciful at all. It makes perfect sense to me. What a ride we have with our young. Each different. Each unique. Testing us. Taxing us. Delighting us. I had lunch with several old friends from the teeny-tiny to just at school stage of my life with children on Friday and one (who only has one) said ‘I just don’t LIKE her. I love her with every fibre of me but I just don’t LIKE her’ – that will pass but it is tough. The best advice I ever received (from an Irishman 😉 ) was simply ‘go with it’ when I’ve remained true to that I have succeeded in loving, liking and occasionally even understanding each of mine but when I have strayed, as he predicted, it has been Hell and some!!

      2. A family member said exactly that once about her daughter. There’s a world of difference between the rather clinical like/dislike, and the visceral love/hate. I’ve never felt like that about any of mine, though there are aspects of all of them that I don’t like, that make me furious or simply irritated. It must be tough to find no redeeming features at all.

      3. My friend was always quite melodramatic so I suspect there is an element of exaggeration. Mine have infuriated me royally on occasions but I am immensely proud of the young women they have grown into and not least that they are prepared to stand up for themselves and defend those they care about. I suspect this lady’s daughter is the same and that she perhaps would prefer something passive. Who knows. In the end people are the greatest of mystères to me!

      4. I’m glad you’re proud of the way yours have turned out. I wouldn’t say I’m proud of mine, but I’m not ashamed of them either. We encouraged them to be independent-minded and to do their own thing, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they go and do it.

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