I visited Paris in 2005, a couple of weeks after high school graduation. I remember being overwhelmed by the regality of the city, how old the architecture was compared to that of the United States, and the beautiful spring air, windy and filled with pink and white petals showering off of the trees lining the streets.
My family and I had started our Europe trip in Venice, Italy, and after Paris we traveled on to London, which is where we were on July 7th, when a series of suicide bombers struck the city and killed fifty-six people. I recall the lights flickering, and going down to the hotel lobby where people were gathered around a television, talking about how there had been a power surge in one of the underground tunnels, but not knowing much beyond that.
A little while later, the real news came out. It was the first and only time I have ever been in close proximity to an act of violence (not just at that magnitude, but at all), and I remember not fully being able to comprehend it. We went to watch the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, but they had canceled it for the day. The whole time we were walking around, police cars and ambulances were swinging rapidly through roundabouts, their sirens blaring from a distance, growing louder, and then fading out again. The play we had tickets for got canceled as well, so we ended up seeing the new Batman movie at a theater; Piccadilly Circus, which had been crowded and bustling the night before, was completely empty and silent, and I remember my skin tingling with eerie tension. My friends sent me frantic emails to make sure I was okay, and I reassured them with surprise, because it had never occurred to me that I wouldn't be. When I look back now and see how few of the details about the bombings I was aware of, I realize how naive I was, even at eighteen years old, and how little I really knew about what some people are capable of.
This is a story all about me, I realize that. I originally wasn't going to write this blog post, because although I'm a sentimental person, I also don't like to appropriate tragedy. And yet, as I look through my various social media feeds, that's what I am seeing the most: people connecting to the horrific events of 11/13 by recalling their own memories and experiences with the city of Paris, posting pictures of family vacations and study abroad trips, sending love and fondness to the people of France. And I've realized how important those connections are in moments like this, because when you're halfway across the world, what else can you do? I was only in Paris for a few days ten years ago, and I haven't returned since. But it's not just the city we're mourning for; it's the people. Human beings who have experienced an inexplicable loss. As Obama said yesterday, “This is an attack not just on Paris… It’s an attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share”. As tired as I get of the internet, these are the times when I find it to be the most beautiful. We are now able to show solidarity, quickly and en masse, faster than ever before. We are able to learn and respond and band together, whether it be by making donations, opening our doors to people, or simply changing our profile pictures on Facebook and sending love out onto the world wide web and hoping that people who need strength and comfort will feel it.
I'll admit, I initially felt distant from the news. My mom was the first to tell me yesterday afternoon, and I turned on NPR and listened to the reports come in, but I didn't feel the shock right away. But this morning, in bed, as I read descriptions of what happened and saw photos of people - human beings - wounded, helping each other, hurting, I was surprised when I felt the tears start to roll down my face. I had not predicted a physical reaction, and yet there it was, and it reminded me of how visceral the connected human experience is, even when we aren't fully aware of it.
It's also easy to feel helpless, because if governments and national security and people with power aren't able to prevent acts of violence like this, then what are we, as individuals, supposed to do? There is so much hurt in this world. And it's hard to be succinct, and it's hard to feel like talking about this whole topic will do any good, because it's all been said before, and there are always going to be messed up people who wish to do others harm.
But it's in the most hopeless of moments like these when the light of humanity shines the brightest, and that should bring us comfort. It can be uncomfortable to dive into the mess and connect with others, to support a cause. It's easier to be distant and unattached. I've even known some who think it's trite and corny to speak out or show emotions when everyone else is, as though it's "uncool" to be doing what everyone else is doing, like we're still in high school or something. But what I see is love. Love, and connection, and people caring about shit, which I don't think happens enough, or at least isn't vocalized and acted upon enough, in everyday life.
Since we can't stop bad things from happening, what matters most is our reaction.
So this is my little piece of connection. It's a bit scattered and unorganized, but it's all I've got. I am sending out nothing but love and light to the people of Paris, and to all the people of the world who are suffering because of senseless acts of violence, especially those who have to put up with the threat of this kind of terror on a daily basis, but who have no means to escape it. And I'm also sending love to those who think that hurting others is the right thing to do; no one is born evil, and ultimately, the only thing that can stop evil from spreading is showing love and compassion to everyone, and helping people from getting lost, so that no one feels like they have to turn to violence or anger in order to feel important and heard. I strongly believe that at the end of the day, love wins out over all else.