In the weeks following the November 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris that claimed the lives of 130 people, I wrote a piece for my opinion writing class at NYU. In it, among a swamp of admittedly feeble arguments (there was a deadline), was the goal that inspired me to take on the topic in the first place: to be fearless.
Two months later, I was supposed to be in Paris, studying abroad. Like a few others, I was determined to prove that giving in to fear was exactly what the terrorists wanted. I was determined to go, to study, to make friends, to explore, and to thrive. And, ultimately, I did.
Looking back, my perspective on the entire situation was laughably noble for one student, but I will admit it’s something I still believe.
On the night of July 14, 2016, my parents and I were hanging out the windows of our apartment, phones in hand, filming the fireworks display at the Eiffel Tower. It’s 30 minutes that will put every Fourth of July fireworks show in your past and future to shame.
Several hours earlier, we were eating takeout and watching Netflix, every so often glancing at the sky to see if it was finally getting dark. 900 km (about 550 mi) away, the lives of 84 innocent people came to an end. I can honestly say that ignorance is bliss.
When my mom woke me up the next morning, the first words out of her mouth were that there had been another attack. Every bit of that false hope that something terrible couldn’t possibly happen, after I spent the day venturing in and out of a security perimeter near the Eiffel Tower guarded by scores of armed police, was instantly shattered.
Paris did have a safe night, thanks to all the security. Yet sometimes, when you pull the blanket up over your eyes to protect yourself from the monsters, some part is always left exposed for them to latch onto.
We watched the news, in French and English, on loop for hours, waiting for answers. When nothing new appeared, we looked out the window at the beautiful day and decided to walk to our favorite sandwich shop and have a picnic in the Luxembourg garden.
For a Friday, the streets were a little quieter than usual. We passed Les Invalides. The lawn was still covered in dozens of people sunbathing, having picnics, and playing impromptu games of soccer. On St. Germain, people still window-shopped as they walked. In the Luxembourg garden, we realized a lot of other people had the same idea as we did. Children still rented toy sailboats to float in a large fountain in the center of the park.
In short, at least here in Paris, even in the midst of three days of national mourning, most of us continue to carry on. No one has dismissed this tragedy, or the ones that came in the months and years before it. That’s not my point. My point is that I stand by what I wrote nearly eight months ago. I will not give in to fear, and I hope no one else does either.
Of the hours of news coverage I watched on the Nice attacks, one interview with a waiter who worked at a restaurant on the Promenade des Anglais was what I remember most. When asked if the restaurant would be closed the following day, he said that no, they would be open. We have to carry on.