PARIS — It was supposed to be an ordinary Friday of going out with friends and enjoying the city I have come to call home these past months. The pedestrian streets around Les Halles were bustling with activity, and the France-Germany soccer match was live in virtually every bar. It was 10:10 p.m., and I was at a Spanish bar when I got the first text message from a friend concerned about my well-being following the earliest reports of the Paris attacks. That was the first I heard of the attacks that night.
My reaction to the first messages I received was rather nonchalant. I was not alarmed. With so many bomb threats, precautionary evacuations and increased security in Paris after the Charlie Hebdo onslaught, I was numbed to the heightened threat of an attack. It was not a numbness produced by the sangria I was having that night, but a more dangerous, societal numbness towards terrorism that has blanketed the Western world.
Through friends’ worried messages, social media and the internet, the confusion of information was being pieced together. There was something about a shooting near Bastille, something about an explosion at the Stade de France, something about coordinated attacks. The magnitude of what was developing overtook everyone’s numbness at the bar. Everybody ditched their drinks for their cellphones. Many paid their tabs and left immediately. Others were hesitant to leave, not knowing what awaited them outside. After some deliberation, one of the bartenders suggested my friends and I head home.
It was a five-minute walk to my friend’s apartment, where I would stay the night for safety concerns. All the restaurants and bars we passed were closing for the night. Two officers stood guard in front of the nearest police station, automatic weapons in hands. A concerned Parisian with one hand tucked in his jacket pocket approached the policemen to ask a question. The uneasy and vigilant police ordered him to remove his hand from the pocket immediately. Tension impregnated the air.
At my friend’s apartment we contacted our family members and kept up with the news through Twitter. We heard President Hollande address the nation and learned of the ongoing hostage situation at the Bataclan theatre. The closeness of danger dawned on us as we realized that the bar we just left was a mere 15 minute walk from where many of the shootings took place. I heard commotion outside and peered out the apartment balcony into the street below, which was now congested by police activity. Neighbors in the adjacent buildings were doing the same. Below, every street and corner was being cleared by more than two dozen officers armed with shields, helmets and automatic weapons. Some stranded pedestrians scurried off at the sight, confused as to what to do.
It was 3 or 4 a.m. by the time I went to sleep in the make-shift bed my friend had prepared for me. In the distance I could hear the sirens of ambulances coming to the aid of those that hadn’t been as lucky as I had.
At 9 a.m. on Saturday morning I started making my way back to my apartment, not knowing what to expect of a Paris that had just been terrorized. The city felt quieter and colder than ever. There were barely any cars on the street, and police were securing the perimeters of government structures. All public buildings and monuments would remain closed that day. France was in a state of emergency and Paris in a state of mourning.
Eventually I noticed the city’s garbagemen emptying dumpsters, homeless people huddled quietly around cups of coffee, and boulangeries opening their doors to customers in need of their morning breakfast. The city was silently alive. The more than 125 lives lost the night before were honorably survived by those with the courage to continue their daily lives on Saturday morning.
Fridays like these place our humanity at a crossroad to either succumb to hate and terror or unite in compassion and solidarity. The French and the rest of the world have rightfully opted for the latter path. On that bloody night, Parisian neighbors opened their apartment doors to those affected by the tragedy, taxis around the city offered free rides back home, football fans chanted “La Marseillaise” as they emptied the Stade de France, and world leaders came together in support of a distressed nation.
While France has temporarily declared an “état d’urgence” and closed its borders, we must open our hearts and unite as a society in solidarity with our French brothers and sisters who have suffered a blow against all of mankind. Only love and compassion will mend the wounds caused by senseless terror on a Paris that will soon stand stronger and shine brighter than before.
Luis Ferré Sadurní is a College junior majoring in PPE. He is currently studying abroad in Paris.
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