My Uber car is swerving and twisting through London streets, making the long trek from Battersea across the river, northeast, back to my apartment.
After being overcome by a sudden wave of nausea, I decided to leave a party early. I’m now slumped in the backseat, watching the red, white, and blue lights of the London Eye illuminate the hazy, burnt orange night sky. I close my eyes. Everywhere I look, people are mourning Paris. Every social media platform, news site, and now, city monument, is awash in tragedy. I can barely breathe.
I’ve thought of nothing but Paris since Friday night; my thoughts are overwhelming enough, but I find the external reminders more than I can handle.
The radio switches from Justin Timberlake and Jay Z’s Holy Grail to some Spanish song I can’t identify. My Uber driver turns up the volume when the news comes on.
“We have our most recent updates from Paris…”
I close my eyes again, almost childlike, as if closed eyes can block out the noise, the world.
For the first time, my Uber driver speaks up. “It’s so sad.”
“I know. I’ve barely been able to concentrate, I’ve been so upset.”
“Yes. But this happens all the time in the Middle East. And nobody cares. I’m from Iran,” he turns back to me, as if challenging me and my American accent. “My uncle and cousins were eating lunch one day. That’s all. Eating lunch. They were innocent. And then a bomb fell and murdered them all. It’s senseless. I hate war!” He slams his fist against the dashboard.
I appreciate the sentiment, though I wish he’d stop swerving.
“I won’t be able to drive anymore. People see my face, and they fear me.”
“I’m so sorry.” It’s all I can say. I think for sure I’ll get sick in the back of his car.
“ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks – they’re targeting France,” the radio interrupts.
I put my head in my hands – sick with food poisoning? Too much wine? Or just sick. Sick with the news, the images of blood-stained shirts, the anti-Muslim comments spray-painted on shops, and thoughts of fallen bodies spinning round and round and round in my brain.
I’m not even in Paris. At first it felt like a tragedy I didn’t have the right to partake in, other than as a bystander, separated by the cold English Channel. But on bright days, you can see French shores from England, and anyone who’s been reading my blog for a while knows I feel as if I’ve left a part of my heart in Paris. A piece I’ll never truly get back. It’s part of myself, part of my past, and dreams of my future. It’s the only city I’ve ever truly loved beyond comprehension. It’s home. And when I think of all the people affected, the upcoming funerals, the fear…I can barely fathom it.
Unsurprisingly, people keep referencing 9/11, and the shock they experienced when they heard what happened.
But I don’t remember shock. I lived in DC at the time, and all I remember is kids being pulled out of school for no reason, teachers whispering in the hallways, the distant blaring of sirens, and a confusing, tense lunchtime when a woman with swollen eyes tore into dining hall. That day, these unexpected intrusions were not unusual, but when the woman reached her daughter, the little girl just started screaming.
Weeks later, I learned that her dad had been on the plane that crashed into the Pentagon.
I don’t remember shock – I remember confusion and fear. And I think that’s what it must have been like in Paris on Friday night – and still today, as people in the city cope with the aftermath of the massacre.
Most people were fortunate to be shocked Friday night, and not wrapped up in the panic of the Parisian streets. Almost everyone I know is safe and accounted for, except for one friend we’re all still waiting to hear from. It’s wretched but it could be worse. I count myself lucky – although part of me wishes I could be in my former home, helping in some way, mourning with the city.
I hadn’t considered writing a blog post on the Paris attacks. It felt like some sick way of capitalizing on loss. But in the past couple days, I’ve had a few readers ask about my thoughts on the events. Then one friend in particular said something that stuck with me – the best retaliation she could think of was to continue to create. To continue in her effort to brighten the world with her creations.
I like that.
Creativity in opposition to massacre.
It seems that people need to talk about this, but don’t quite know what to say. I suppose I still don’t quite know what to say, perhaps because there aren’t enough words to encompass the revulsion and grief we’re feeling. But I will say this: my thoughts – almost against my will – are completely preoccupied with everyone suffering in Paris.
I hope they’ll be okay.
And I hope we don’t allow terrorism to breed needless hatred or discrimination.
I hope we can move forward gracefully and with kindness.
I hope people remember to visit and appreciate the City of Light for the beautiful place it is.
As with 9/11, people have proven themselves to be welcoming, kind, and supportive in times of horror. I’ve heard countless stories of strangers opening their doors, protecting each other, and comforting each other through uncertain hours of searching for loved ones.
And there’s infinite hope in that kind of solidarity.
So here’s to Paris, and the resilient French spirit.