Casey(+baby #2), Max and I last visited Paris a month ago. We only had a couple days but solidly made our way around the city to enjoy many of the beautiful sights. As someone who didn’t get a passport until age 25, it was with great joy that I explored the city with Maxwell, age 21 months, regardless of whether or not he is capable of making concrete lasting memories.
We went to the Eiffel Tower, explored several parks and enjoyed great meals out in the wonderful cafes that are such a part of Parisian life. The weather was also on our side during the entire visit and made the sights that much more beautiful.
There are two lasting images for me, the first is Max exploring Parc Monceau like a free-range kid. Smiling, innocent, happy, reaching for the sun. This is just after riding around on the carousel…he was living the toddler dream. Paris, what an amazing place!
The second lasting image is what happened when Max and I left. We were taking the train to Germany and Casey was flying so we said our goodbyes to each other and took a taxi headed for Gare du Nord. As we approached the station it became clear that something was different than the last time Casey and I were here.
A Syrian refugee knocked on the window of the taxi about a block from where we were headed and played peek-a-boo with Max the whole time. My initial knee-jerk reaction was that this was off-putting. Casey and I have donated to charities in support of the refugees, but for some reason being faced with it was shocking and made me initially defensive.
Then I looked this woman in the eye and noticed her bright smile. She couldn’t speak English but made it clear that she was just trying to feed her own children. She was hurting and desperate. Meanwhile, Max is making eyes at her the whole time and continuing his joyful game of peek-a-boo with innocent laughter. It didn’t take long before I decided to help this woman and I wish we could have helped them all, there were many.
It was then that I realized something else that is amazing about Paris. Not only is it a lovely city, steeped in history, it’s also a beacon of hope for many in the world who wish to be free. It’s a diverse and inclusive place that certainly gave hope to the refugees we encountered; hope visible in their eyes and in their smiles. These were not people wishing to do harm, but rather to escape harm.
My heart goes out to the people of Paris who lost their lives, the loved ones who cared for them, and for the many people who were injured and terrified by the actions of a few bad actors. Terrorists are cowards. Their ideas about the world are so flawed that they are wholly against modernity and any society that seeks to be open, inclusive, and free. They also do not represent the Muslim religion practiced by more than 2 billion people the world over.
My heart also goes out to the people of many other nations across the world who have fallen victim to the terrorists of ISIS, most recently in Beirut and Iraq.
Being an American, I can’t help but think about the long standing relationship between France and the US. They gifted us the Statue of Liberty. Think for a moment about what it has represented for generations of people with hope in their eyes and smiles, seeking a better life.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
The US & France are not nations built by cowards who were fearful of otherness. I challenge anyone who reads this to stand by the ideals that make America and our allies great. To avoid succumbing to fear and fear-mongers. To avoid rejecting the idea of helping those who need it most. To avoid conflating the bad actions of a few with the struggle of many who wish to be free. To avoid conflating the bad actions of a few, with an entire religion that is suffering more at the hands of these terrorists than anyone else.