I remember 9/11 like it was yesterday. I was eight years old living in California. My mom shook me awake. It wasn’t the gentle wake-up call I was used to—it was frantic, panicked. The TV was on downstairs as I stumbled down groggy-eyed and annoyed at my mom. That’s weird, I thought. The TV is never on in the morning. I sat down at the dining table and asked, “Why are we watching a movie?” Because what I saw on the TV screen looked like something out of a movie. At the time, I didn’t even know what the World Trade Centers were; I was too young and had never been to New York.
“It’s not a movie,” my parents replied, watching the television with horror.
It’s a strange phenomenon. People always remember where they are when terrible things happening. Less frequently I’d guess, do people remember where they are when great things happen. Almost every American I know knows where they were. Some people remember what they were wearing. They remember the smells around them. The details seem to be more pronounced for those that were older at the time.
I will forever remember where I was on November 13, 2015. I was finishing a dinner of canard de confit in Bordeaux, France. The smell of duck and roast potatoes lingered in the air as we frantically ran to the television screen. I didn’t finish my dinner that night.
I will always remember sitting in front of the television, listening to the unfolding news. Three shootings… fusillades… explosions at Stade de France. Was I understanding this correctly? Was my French really that terrible? Or was it just the situation in front of me that was beyond belief? I hoped desperately to blame my French. No, it was the latter.
Having grown up in the United States, I’m sorry and ashamed to say that I have become somewhat numb to news of shootings… in the United States. After spending a year abroad living in Paris and now living in London, news of shootings anywhere but the United States makes my blood run cold.
I used to hang out there. I used to get drinks at Le Comptoir Géneral or lounge along the Canal Saint Martin. I know that restaurant. I know that street. I’ve attended a concert in that venue, Le Bataclan. These were my initial thoughts.
And then in a complete 360 degree turn, I suddenly fell on logic. You see, my undergraduate degree was in International Relations with an emphasis on Peace & Security. I used to study war. I used to study terrorism. In a flood, it all came crashing back. What was that quote? I asked myself. Terrorism is the act of inciting violence or fear in order to bring about a political change. But with terrorism, somebody needs to take responsibility. The message needs to be clear. Deep down, I knew who had done this and I knew why, but a clear message wasn’t sent until the following day. It broke my heart to know I was right. I remember as the news unfolded in front of me, my mind was in overdrive making mind maps. What was the link to all of this? Why Stade de France? Why Le Bataclan? Why Le Petit Cambodge? Were there links? Or was it really just an attack on the bobo (Bourgeois bohème) lifestyle?
I didn’t sleep well all weekend. My sleep was interrupted with nightmares of the night. It didn’t help that I know Paris, my imagination ran wild with empathy and I felt like I was there. I dreamt that the friends whom I hadn’t yet heard from were seriously injured or worse.
I became fiercely patriotic… to a country that I don’t actually belong to. I suddenly found myself incredibly offended by the things people on social media were posting. An old acquaintance on Facebook wrote something along the lines of, “How does changing your profile picture help Paris?” and I lashed out. I ranted and raved about how it was true that this simple action wasn’t physically helping anyone, but it was a symbolic gesture. It showed awareness and sympathy.
Since that day, I’ve read a lot of criticism of peoples’ actions following the tragedy that occurred on November 13th. People who posted photos of the Jean Julien’s Paris peace symbol or changed their profile pictures on Facebook with the French flag filter were criticized and called “bandwagon-ers.” I think this, more than anything, has angered me in the week following the events in Paris.
It angers me to know that after the terrible manifestation of hate that occurred, people felt the need to propagate more hate and negativity. Some people, like myself, felt incredibly close to the situation. The way I reacted was similar to many of my friends who are actually French. My immediate status update prior to Facebook’s Safety Check-In feature asked my friends who live in Paris to remain indoors and stay safe. Some people have only visited Paris once in their lives, some have never been—but that doesn’t mean that their sympathy and support should be discounted because they are removed from the situation. It would be like saying that a young girl in a village town in France had no business feeling grief after 9/11. It makes absolutely no sense!
In the aftermath of 9/11, the outpouring of support was overwhelming. I can say as an American, that there is not a single American who would have said, “No, thanks. Keep your support. I’m good.” There is no such thing as too much support. I can’t speak on behalf of all French citizens, but I can guess that the support the world gave to Paris and all French citizens that night was greatly appreciated. I can’t imagine a single one Frenchman or woman saying, “Non, merci.”
It is shocking to me, following tragedies such as these, that people can be so harsh to their fellow man and woman. We cannot discount the emotions of those in grief and we cannot tear down the support that others provide. If we do, what will have left but anger and emptiness?
At the end of the day, I refuse to hide my emotions regarding world events like what happened in Paris or in Baghdad or Beirut. Having emotions and cognitive thoughts is what makes us human, is it not? So why deny the very thing that makes me, or you, human? At the end of the day, I say to the people of France—I feel your pain. I feel your hurt. And I stand with you, much like you stood with my country all those years ago. I am proud to have lived in France for a year, lived a Parisian life, attended a Parisian school, and worked at a Parisian bar. Your grief is mine and I will stand by you until the end. Vive la France!