I was in Paris the day of the attacks. That evening, I had been out with friends in Montmatre. I was tired and starting to get sick and nearly didn’t go out. If I hadn’t gone out, I would have likely fallen asleep before the attacks which means my family and friends would have had to wait eight hours before knowing I was safe. My friend, who lives in Paris, nearly took us to a restaurant next door to the attacks. These “sliding-like-door” decisions have not escaped me. I was lucky to have left Paris unharmed both physically and emotionally.
While the news outlets were focusing on the horrors of the attacks, I wandered the streets of Paris as a tourist and observer. I witnessed an entirely different side of humanity – the will to defy terrorism by going on with life. The museums and tourist attractions were closed but the cafes weren’t. Tourists and locals alike filled the streets without fear. I saw the desire to deeply connect with one another despite our backgrounds. At the hotels I stayed in, seemingly aloof Parisians shared with me their feelings of shock, noting it could have been them. One wondered how she’d be treated at the airport the following week while flying to Iran. Another noted that he never called to check on his friends in Beirut but they had checked on him.
The second day after the attacks, I went to the Place de la Republique. It felt weird being voyeuristic but then again, how could I not witness this? I heard people singing and came to join the crowd. They were fumbling through the lyrics with no native English speakers leading and I nearly went up to the front to help but couldn’t get through. You can see me for a split second behind the guy in the yellow sweater at the 13s mark in the Hey Jude video. I had the sense that people weren’t singing for attention but truly singing their hearts out – a timeless method of catharsis. It was truly a beautiful moment – a reminder that we all have more in common than we have differences. That we are resilient and, especially if we come together, we will get through whatever challenges face us. And that we will not let violence or fear control us.