Two weeks ago, life in the ‘City of Lights’ took an unexpectedly dark turn. I don’t believe I will forget the moments of those 3 days. Ever.
In hind sight, it would not be correct to say that I was directly affected by what happened at Charlie Hebdo, my suburb in Malakoff, or the Hyper Cacher grocery in Porte de Vincennes. I am alive and well. There was no gun pointed in my face, or those of my work colleagues. I did not endanger my life when I went to my local grocery store, nor while I was walking down my street. My biggest inconvenience during those 3 days was simply switching from my normal metro line so I could make it home.
In reality, my life is very much the same as it was before these terrorist acts, and I am SO thankful that is the extent of my experience. Yet…at the same time, it would also be wrong to say that I was completely unaffected. In fact, it wasn’t until these few days that I fully understood why acts of terror are labeled as such.
A simple word, yet so powerful. It’s meant to create panic, a feeling of hysteria, and loss of control within. In those 3 days, with each new attack and new location, I began to understand why extremists incite violence in this way. You see, even though those were only moments of mild terror, a million thoughts ran through my head frantically. It was likely that I was not in immediate danger, but I simply didn’t know. I began to think things like:
“Where will they be next??”
“Is it safe to go out, or should I stay home?”
“Should I take public transport? Will people be in a panic?”
“Should I call my parents? I have no idea what the media is showing them.”
“That could have just as easily been me…”
It seems almost silly when I think about it now, but that’s the point, their goal—to make us react irrationally to the situation, stop our daily activities, hide in fear, and halt our way of life. So while those feelings of terror are sensations I would much rather never experience again, I’m glad I can now understand and recognize them. I’m glad I know now the capacity necessary to put those feelings aside and live my life normally, to refuse to cower in fear. I discovered that I have the capability to stand alone and with others to defend the rights of freedom of expression and worship, and in that way, we have beaten them.
I would consider the Unity Rally on the 11th of January one of the most powerful moments of my life to date. To stand side by side with people of every age, ethnicity, background, nationality, and religion in solidarity…it is a magical thing.
There were more than 40 different world leaders present and millions just in Paris alone. It was calm and peaceful, a beautiful gathering of people banded together against hate, intolerance, and needless violence. I will hold that close to my heart forever.
Of course, some would argue that it was a bit of a sham having many of these world leaders stand together to defend freedom of expression. They make a valid point based on track records. Yet, fault me if you will, I am an eternal optimist. While I do agree that some could be seen as hypocrites, I do also believe that a step towards change has to begin somewhere. We have to open a dialogue in any manner available. Could this be it? Could this be a start? Perhaps, this rally has planted seeds for a better and fruitful future. Perhaps it can provide a platform for leaders to work together and stop the atrocities that are happening in places like Nigeria at the hands of Boko Haram or ISIS in Syria. It is worth a try.
In truth, my one and only disappointment was America’s lack of representation at the rally. This was a moment to stand with EVERYONE, and we missed it. We simply missed it. Please understand, I completely agree the President, himself, comes with a hefty security package. However, his presence wasn’t a necessity, but SOMEONE’S was. Our own US Attorney General, who was IN Paris already, simply didn’t show up. How embarrassing. How rude. How…sad.
It was not the right message to send to the global community, and that I will also never forget. In a moment when we should have stood in solidarity, stood against the twisted use of a peaceful faith to harm innocent people with violent acts, sadly, we were not. We were painfully absent.
So how is Paris after Charlie?
She lives. Bright and beautiful, shining her lights of La Tour Eiffel brilliantly. She still laughs and sings. She still simultaneously scowls at and welcomes tourists to her streets. Yet, she does this with a bit more caution. There are armed guards in the airport, by government buildings, and the metro. A left bag gets more attention than it used to attract, and you see reminders everywhere in the battle cry of “Je suis Charlie” at the cinema, in the paper, on buildings.
You also see the strength of the French people, and that for me, has made all the difference. Paris will not stop. She will not be afraid. She is and will continue to be a place for free-thinkers, artists, lovers, and dreamers, and I’m still abundantly blessed and lucky to call her home. ❤