Relaymedia

I Was There During the Paris Attacks

( [email protected] ) Nov 20, 2015 07:33 PM EST
I unlocked the door to the apartment, and we all collapsed on the couch, laughing after a day at the Louvre and an evening full of wine and food. My phone buzzed.  "Are you okay?"  "Yes, we're fine...why?" I texted my friend in the U.S. back, puzzled by her question.
People observe a minute of silence at the Trocadero in front the Eiffel Tower to pay tribute to the victims of the series of deadly attacks on Friday in Paris, France, November 16, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

I unlocked the door to the apartment, and we all collapsed on the couch, laughing after a day at the Louvre and an evening full of wine and food. 

My phone buzzed.  "Are you okay?"  "Yes, we're fine...why?" I texted my friend in the U.S. back, puzzled by her question. 

"It said on the news there were shootings in Paris," She replied. I looked at my husband and our two friends whom we've known since college.  We were just starting our five-day getaway in Paris.

"My mom has been texting me about attacks going on in Paris," our friend Jacob spoke.  His wife Leah's phone alerted her to a message, this time from her parents.

We had heard sirens on the walk back from dinner around 10:15 PM, but that kind of thing is normal in a big city.

Jacob pulled out his laptop and quickly found a live stream of CNN.  We watched in shock as the reporter told us that multiple shootings and a bombing had happened around the city and that 100 hostages were being held at the Bataclan Theater, less than a mile from where we were staying.

We didn't sleep much that night.  There were more worried texts from loved ones at home and frantic Twitter scrolling for updates as we sat helplessly in the middle of one of the greatest tragedies France has known since the World Wars. 

Paris Attack
People mourn outside "Le Petit Cambodge" and "Le Carillon" restaurants, as they pay tribute to the victims of the series of deadly attacks last Friday, in Paris, France, November 17, 2015. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier  

On Saturday, we had planned a visit to Versailles that we were forced cancel due to France's state of emergency.  We went out to buy groceries at the market up the street, and I found myself a little surprised at how many people appeared to be going on with life as usual.  They bustled to and from work and popped into cafés for lunch with friends. I even saw a man stop to fill his bottle with orange juice from a machine that squeezed it freshly on the spot.  The only visible difference was the police van parked on the corner and the officers armed with AK-47's.

The terror seemed to be over until Sunday night when we were about to go out for our last dinner in Paris before returning home.

"Get down!" Leah suddenly screamed from the window where a moment before we had warily been observing police on the street corner in front of our apartment building.  "I saw them start running with their guns out," she whispered as we lay with our cheeks pressed against the cold, wood floor.

Seconds later we heard rounds of gunfire in the street followed by sirens and the steady hum of helicopters circling.  A quick scan of the news showed a manhunt was underway for the eighth suspected terrorist.

We left the next morning, and I slept much of the nine and a half hour flight home to Atlanta.  It wasn't until after I was safely stateside that I began to feel the gravity of what we had seen and heard in Paris.  Some call the feelings I've been having for the past few days acute stress reaction, something that happens when you unconsciously go into survival mode due to trauma and don't feel any extreme reaction until you've arrived back in a safe place.

These attacks will go down in history, as will the response of the world via air strikes and a growing debate over accepting Syrian refugees.

While my story is only a small part of a larger narrative of voices, many of whom were much more directly affected by this tragedy, I feel compelled to tell it. I was witness to what they are calling a new brand of terrorism. I can also testify to the courage and resilience of the French people in the face of such unexpected and horrific violence.  Not only are they standing together publicly and testifying to IS that we will not let them win, but they are also going about their daily lives with courage and perseverance. 

As I struggle to comprehend the events of the past few days and what they mean for our world in which a modern form of terrorism is a reality we all face, I am heartened by the example the French are offering. 

We can unify.  We can grieve together.  We can celebrate that we see the value of life that members of IS do not.  We can overcome any desire they have to antagonize us and provoke emotional responses, and we can consciously enact compassion for those for whom events like the Paris Attacks are a daily reality.