Photo courtesy of Avenue des Champs-Elysees Facebook page
Three days have passed since the horrific terrorist attack on Paris, and I am still trying to wrap my head around what has happened. Heart-broken, shocked, surreal. I keep thinking this is a nightmare, and I’ll wake up tomorrow to find life as usual. It just doesn’t seem real. My heart aches for the innocent young people whose lives were tragically lost as they went about their lives on a typical Friday night.
Paris has been like a second home to me. I’ve traveled there so often, I lost count long ago. And when I’m not traveling there myself, I’m planning someone else’s trip to Paris. Or teaching classes in France tourism at our local community education. Or writing about France on several blogs.
I’ve had the pleasure of taking many of my friends and family members with me. Some of my fondest, most profound memories involve France, and Paris in particular.
And while I feel a profound sense of loss, it cannot compare to the heart-wrenching grief the victims’ loved ones are experiencing. My heart goes out to all those affected by this senseless savagery. I will not focus on the strategy to defeat the barbarians; I leave that to law enforcement, the military and world leaders.
I want to focus instead on the kindness and resiliency of the French people. They have suffered mightily for centuries in countless wars, invasions and plagues. Yet their spirit endures. The French contributions to humanity are immeasurable…..art, philosophy, music, literature, gastronomy & wine, fashion, film, industry, medicine, culture. What strikes me most though, is the French people’s love of life:
joie de vi-vre
/ZHwa duh veevre/
exuberant enjoyment of life
synonyms: joyfulness, cheerfulness, happiness, gaiety
The French are formal and polite, which can be mistaken for aloofness. But I cannot count the number of times I have been helped and befriended by French people who have gone out of their way to help me, or to share their joy of living with me.
Mounia, a sweet stranger (now a new friend), who I met last year at the Starbucks near Opera Garnier, as I was waiting to meet a business contact who never showed up. Mounia sensed I was ill at ease, and she stood at the door with me for 20 minutes, trying to help me locate my colleague. And when it became clear my colleague and I had mis-connected, Mounia and her friend joined me and we sat for an hour, sipping our coffee and chatting.
Gani, my waiter at the Eiffel Tower restaurant, who on a whim, asked me to join him for a picnic in the Champs du Mars to watch the incredible fireworks for Bastille Day. It was not a “hook up” or even a date per se, he just wanted to be sure I did not miss the joy of the celebration on that warm summer evening.
The waitstaff at the tiny café on Rue Cler who helped me to call a locksmith when I found myself locked out of my apartment. They did not speak English, and my French is horrible. I had no purse, no money, no cell phone (all locked inside the apartment), and was literally in my nightgown on the streets of Paris. But they kept working to understand my bad French (who knows how to say “locksmith” in French?). All I could manage was “mon cle…c’est perdu”. They called and had a locksmith there in 30 minutes to help me.
And the locksmith himself insisted on giving me instructions on how to pick the new electronic locks, and left the secret equipment with me so I can let myself in next time.
David /dah veed/ who I met by sheer coincidence in a coffee shop in Rochester, MN. He shared his laptop with me and schooled me on technology. I learned more from sitting with him for an hour than I would have in a semester-long computer class. SEO, Weebly, Fivver, and much more.
The cheesemonger, who with twinkling eyes meticulously put together a perfect cheese tray for me, with the necessary assortment of hard and soft…cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s.
My ex-pat friends, who are not Parisian by birth, but got there as soon as they could – Marlys and Michael who I met on Twitter, and invited us into their home on multiple occasions. Ricardo, the darling pastry chef who I would like to adopt. Friend and colleague Madelyn and her French husband, Philippe. Michael and Scott, Lindsey, Ellise, and so many more.
And my fellow francophiles who I’ve met through social media, blogger conferences and various other venues who share my love of French culture…Dali, Lanore, Kathryn, Robin, Cynthia, Karen, Robyn, Beth, Julie, Lisa…I know you all join me in mourning the loss of innocent lives, and in honoring the true joie de vivre that is the embodiment of the French people.
I long to be back there now. I wish I could go this very week with my friend Dali, but work and family commitments will keep me engaged at home until after the holidays. I want to be there…especially now... to show some small measure of support for the people and country that mean so very much to me.
Am I afraid to travel now? Yes, I am. But that will NOT keep me away. What happened in Paris can happen anywhere, and sadly, already has. NYC, London, Madrid, Beirut, Canada, Australia, Boston.
We cannot live our lives under a rock, cowering in fear. Life is short, but is meant to be LIVED.
So hug your family and friends very tightly, and look for opportunities to tell them how much you love them, and how much joy they bring to your life…every single day.
This tragedy also serves as an opportunity to contemplate our own mortality (another quirky French trait) and the universality of our brief existence on this earth. John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself…. Every man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. Therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” Whatever God you pray to, ask Him/Her to welcome the dear innocents and provide comfort to their grieving families.
Vive la France.
Photo courtesy of Avenue des Champs-Elysees Facebook page