Reflections on the Week..
I've been trying to write this post for a few days now but to be honest, I haven't had the energy or the strength. The attacks of last Friday night have really shaken and shocked me and the rest of France for that matter. Yes, we live in Bordeaux - around 370 miles away, 5 1/2 hours by car but only 3 hours by fast train. On one hand, it seems far away but on the other hand, France is small, similar to the size of the State of Texas - so events like these feel close. Not to mention the severity and the shock of innocent people being killed.
It was 3 am (French time) Saturday morning when I found out about the Paris attacks. I had gone to bed early, as I had to work an early shift at the airport. As I do every work morning, I grabbed by phone as I got up and double checked to see if there were any last minute emails with work instructions. I was surprised to see the facebook messenger icon indicating that I had 15 private messages. As I clicked on the icon and the messages opened...I could see the first lines of each one...."I hope you and your family are fine", "Hoping you are all well", "Sending prayers and hoping things are okay", "I know you are not in Paris, but thinking of you", "My heart aches for Paris"....they went on and on. I quickly accessed my French news and was shocked, like everyone else to read the headlines - Paris Attacked...over 100 killed over 250 wounded - several different simultaneous attacks. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I felt numb, I was shocked. I didn't have the time to read too much, I couldn't even read all the messages thoroughly, I had to get dressed,get to the airport for work and at this point, I had about a half an hour.
As I drove to the airport, I still couldn't process it all. I shifted to work mode - would planes be able to come in? I had heard that the borders were shut. I had also heard that there were no outgoing flights. But as it was early in the crisis - one just has to move through, wait and see. I arrived at the airport a few minutes early, my clients were still on their way from the ship, so I continued reading what I could and wrote a quick Facebook status update letting friends and family know I was fine. I essentially worked in automatic mode that morning, still cheerful but numb - assisting our clients with checking in to their flights. Flights were headed out - to Amsterdam and Paris. Air France couldn't say what would happen to the overseas flights from Paris, but at this point the flights weren't cancelled.
The one thing that was definitely present that morning was a silence in the airport. Initially, there were no planes arriving and I think others like myself were all in shock - so were just quiet. The security presence had already been increased, so instead of seeing our "normal" (since the Charlie Hebdo attacks last January) 3 armed military guards walking and monitoring the airport - it was increased to 2 teams of 3 each. Seeing the camouflaged military soldiers with their machine guns walking diligently and focused through the airport makes one feel nervous and protected at the same time. I know my American clients had some questions and were concerned and we did our best to reassure them.
I was pleased to be able to go home between shifts (6 to 9am). I knew I wanted to tell my 2 older girls before they saw it on the news or more probably heard it from friends. I waited until 8am to wake them and then shared the tragedy. My older daughter's eye's got really big and she said that her friend's parents were in Paris for the weekend attending a concert. She quickly texted her friend and checked in. Luckily for them, they were at another concert, but a mere 10 minutes from Bataclan. As a mother, I breathed a sigh of relief for my daughter's friend - but my heart broke for those families of the the 135 who innocently died. This was France's 9/11.
I returned to work, again still a bit numbed, checked in more clients and welcomed this week's new clients in. A few people asked some questions, but the information was still coming in and was still not clear. So we couldn't answer much. For the most part we were just doing what we do each week. Life continues. I returned home after my shift at 2 pm - had lunch and really just cocooned with my kids. I didn't want my 14 year old heading into Bordeaux for the afternoon - I just wanted to feel safe. I was happy to have all of them with me. My mind flashed back to that day 9/11/01 when my oldest was not even a year old. I remember being so happy to return from work and just pick her up in my arms and hold her. This particular afternoon was no different, we picked a movie and all of us - hung out together in the living room.
I would check the news on the Internet from time to time. I hadn't explained it to my 8 year old yet. I really loved that she was innocent and free from all the "bad" in this world. Just being with her and then watching her and her older sister play barbies was all I needed that afternoon. The normalcy of childhood activities. Being in the presence of Love and life!
By late afternoon, my oldest wanted to head out and meet a friend in our town - I knew she needed to see her friends and I also knew life goes on. So out she went to catch a bus for the 6 minutes to ride to our town center. That's the tough part - life goes on...life needs to go on...but yet it's changed.
Changed - yes. We are presently (6 days after the attack) in a National State of Emergency. Signs in the tram and on the bus, remind everyone to be vigilant with their comings and goings...Stay alert. On Monday, there was a National Moment of Silence at noon, All flags were at half mask until yesterday. School is in session, but all field trips and class trips have been cancelled for 2 weeks - no unnecessary travel. Security has been tightened. It's strange this week - everywhere you go - something is different but at the same time, the same.
For example, as you enter a mall, a security guard has you open your bag or purse, each door or entrance to a mall one sees a guard posted. More police officers are in the streets, military armed guards walking/patrolling in the city center. Even entering the new Promenade Saint Catherine which has entrances on several street corners, one must show their bag. I walked into the Chamber of Commerce of Bordeaux today, same thing. My daughter said when she went into the mayor's office in Pessac, same procedure. Again, it's reassuring in some sense but makes one more aware and more nervous in another.
This week has definitely been different. When we started the week with a moment a silence on Monday at noon, it seemed to set the mood for the week. Quiet, somber, reflective and serious all at the same time. The cloudy rainy weather adds to the sadness. I was in Cadillac with clients on Monday at noon. Another guide and myself were going to reflect and take the moment together with our 60 clients at the entrance of the town. However, the village had planned it's own gathering and openly embraced us to join with them in the moment of reflection and solidarity. It was a moving and touching speech given by the Deputy Mayor of Cadillac, who spoke sadly how it was our second time in less than a year that we gathered to honor innocent people struck down by those who are angry and radically taking other lives. She spoke of grief, of sadness and of anger but also spoke of upholding the democratic values of France - Liberty, Equality and brotherhood. It's those values that have endured through the centuries, it's those values that have built this country and the free world to what it is today and it's those values that will continue to support the people of France in this time of need. It was a beautiful moment & one that I know both the French townspeople and our American clients won't forget for a long time. People embraced, cried and the unity of these two cultures was felt. We were all thanked for joining in their ceremony.
As the normal work week has continued I've been touched and moved by people around me. People want to talk about it, they want to process it all. One hears debates in the streets about how to react, how to fight back but at the same time the fear. I've had several conversations this week with French friends and even strangers discussing the events. All of these conversations are educated, thoughtful and reflective. Yes, everyone has opinions, everyone is struggling but there seems to be an overall sensitivity to not generalize about religions, take care of those people in need and at the same time figure out how to react against these terrible terrorist acts.
So as I sit here, as an American living in France I am moved, touched and shaken by the events of this past week. But it's events like these that remind us of those deep values that we, in the free world, hold true. It is those values that give us strength, courage and motivation to keep going, keep living life and keep away the fear. I am following the various perspectives that I read about these attacks and it's aftermath. People want answers, they want to blame, they was quick results. Reading how people process and focus on what's next is all part of the healing process. I've even been shocked by the reaction of some of my fellow countrymen back in the States. But again, I have come to learn that by living in Europe - there are many different perspectives on world problems. Here in Europe, we may be part of the European Union but there are 28 different countries and cultures having unique voices about world problems. I also live here among many Muslims, many of whom have been born in France and see themselves as French first. They identify with the people of France and just as there are many different types of Christians, there are many different kinds of Muslims too. The People who I live around are just as shocked and outraged as everyone else.
Just as Americans did after 9/11 - I have no doubt that France will do the same and stand tall together with all it's citizens. Fight back against all that is wrong and all that is dark. Moments like this give us all strength, give us all the reminder of who we are and who we are as a country ( my adopted country in this case). Yes, I wish events like last Friday night didn't happen, I wish innocent people wouldn't die, but let's use these events to get stronger, and move forward in world humanity and peace. Events like this also help us to see past stereotypes, see past generalizations and focus on loving each other and embracing both our similarities and our differences. This gives us strength to keep on living! This also gives us strength to stand with each other and fight back. Don't give into fear and hate.