It’s been over ten years since I’ve been to Paris. Travels, life, other adventures have always put returning on the back burner. Yet, it holds a very dear place in my heart. The four years I spent there were transforming. Like so many other people who experienced Paris in their early twenties, my experiences there made me who I am today.
In many senses, my college experience was typical: Testing out the world I grew up in against the world of different points of view; Finding friends who challenged me; Creating my own community apart from my parents. But set against the backdrop of the City of Lights gave all those typical experiences a certain magic. I solved the world’s problems at the same cafes students have been solving the world’s problems for generations. I learned the history of architecture at the actual pivotal churches. I read Les Miserables while walking those same streets Hugo references.
I didn’t realize those four years would so permeate my life a decade later. Even Bea, as we’re driving, looks for structures “similar to the Eiffel Tower.” (Anything tall made of steel counts.) She learned Bonjour! at a young age and loves her books about artists and life in Paris. She talks about going there with us someday.
And like so many others, when I heard about the tragedy, my heart broke for Paris. Not because other tragedies aren’t important or other lives don’t matter, but because it seemed to hit home just a little bit more. I knew the neighborhood and had friends checking in, confirming they were safe. I have a personal connection with this city.
Less than 24 hours after the news of attacks broke, people are already questioning the authenticity of grief. Are we grieving because Paris is a beautiful city? Are we grieving because Parisians look like us? (Do they?) Why aren’t we grieving for other bombings and tragedies like this one?
Am I praying for peace the world over? Of course. Do the events in Beirut, in Baghdad, in so many other places I don’t even know sadden me and cause me to pray for peace? Of course. The refugee crises, the immigration crises, slavery, trafficking, so many crimes and deaths closer to home sadden me. Do I wait in anticipation of a day when our world is at peace? I do.
But right now, in this moment, the city in which I became an adult, the city that gave me my voice and my confidence is in the news. Praying for Paris doesn’t mean I’m not praying for the world. It doesn’t mean I am less saddened by other tragedies that occur daily. It does mean that I have an emotional connection to this city and it just made the tragedy of our world feel a bit closer. And so I pray for Paris, for the families who are grieving, for the leaders who struggle to respond, and for all those who weep alongside this suffering.