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By Joseph Graham
Before I came to France, my mother warned me of the dangers I might face abroad.
With news on the most recent attacks in the Middle East and North Africa, I would always remind her that these were just isolated events, very far from the country I’d call home for the next four months and that the countries in which I planned to travel seemed to be in good shape too. So, there was nothing to worry about.
Obviously we all know that terror can happen anytime and anywhere, but deep down inside of us, we are desperately hoping that if and when it does occur, it’ll happen somewhere we aren’t and won’t affect anyone we know.
Has there ever been a moment in history when someone in this world wasn’t under attack, being discriminated against or terrorized in some other fashion? Why live day to day as if we’re immune to it? How dare we think that we’re safe walking to school, watching a soccer game, or eating at our favorite ethnic restaurants?
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think one should walk on eggshells for the rest of their lives with bated breath until the next bombing or mass shooting. However, I do think they we should all take a closer look at ourselves, at the way we live, the way we interact with one another, and make sure that we are appreciating the good days and the bad ones too. This is the world we live in and things haven’t changed much, have they?
I was supposed to go to Paris this weekend to meet a friend from my school back in the States. After spending far too much money during my trip Eastern Europe and to London the next weekend, I figured it was best for my energy and my wallet to take a break from traveling. So, I decided to stay in Lyon.
I remember waking up Friday and asking myself if people still believe in the whole “Friday the 13th” myth — that something bad always happens or that the entire day is doomed. That day, I stayed in my room because I had no plans and had just gotten hooked on Downton Abbey. A barrage of Facebook notifications from my friends here in Lyon interrupted the intensity of Season Two’s finale.
“Anyone in Paris? Just making sure everyone’s okay.” “What happened? My mom just called me too, something about some killings?” “What how?”
Pausing the episode, I quickly texted my parents that I was fine and tried to do my own research on it the attacks. What I discovered made me uneasy, because I thought about the warnings my mom gave just a few months ago. I relied on some family members, BBC and CNN to keep me updated.
Overnight the world became blue, white, and red.
Before Monday, I had a hard time observing the emotions of French people I came in contact with on the metro, walking to class, or anywhere else really. But on Monday’s morning metro ride, everyone seemed very tense and anxious. Usually there aren’t many voices heard on a normal day, but it seemed like people who were probably complete strangers were embracing each other through conversation. This was also the first day I decided not to say, “Non, merci monsieur” to the man who always handed out newspapers near my residence. I took one instead.
Going into school that morning was a little different. Greeting each student stood four unarmed security officers at the front entrances. I had to show my student identification card and open my book bag. Although I found it odd that since there were no immediate threats in Lyon at that time and that the school had never placed guards at entrances before, I continued to make my way to class.
It’s been a week since the tragedies in Paris, and I’d say that although things started out a bit tense, everything seems to be running as smoothly as it was before. There have been vigils all over the city, memorials with hand-written notes and posters stained with the wax of tea light candles, and lots of talk about France’s safety moving forward.
I’ve only got a few more weeks here in Europe before it’ll be time for me head back home—and boy do I miss it. And while I’m not even sure how I want these last weeks to be spent, I will certainly not live here in fear, because although feelings have changed, our freedom has not.