Je Suis Paris

Monday, November 16, 2015

I am heartbroken right now for Paris, France, and the rest of the world who is hurting after last Friday's events.

Artwork created by Jean Jullien

I don't usually write posts like this. I'm not the type to write a post about current events, current uproars (the red cup "controversy," that Australian Instagram model,) or even to post an obligatory holiday post. Like, last week I was the only asshole who didn't post some grand "Thank You to Our Veterans" post on my Facebook wall, because I firmly believe that my omission of a heartfelt post on my profile does not mean that I don't love and appreciate our veterans. (I have many veterans in my life and I absolutely appreciate their service.) I also didn't overlay my profile photo with the rainbow flag several months ago, even though I'm a huge supporter of equal rights and protections for LGBTTQQIAAP adults and youth. I just don't feel like my additional voice is necessary among the thousands who are already voicing their opinions, grievances, and thankfulness on a social network that matters very little in the grand scheme of things.

But this. Paris. This reached in deep and struck a chord in a manner I cannot ignore. I am making an exception today, because writing is my way of "getting it out" and I need to get this out.

Music is and always has been a really huge part of my life. I cannot even begin to list all of the bands I have seen live in my 29 years, but I can tell you that seeing and hearing my favorite music played live is my favorite pastime. At a live show I feel connected, passionate, and free from the stress currently in my life. My heart swells with joy and excitement as everyone moves and sings along to music that deeply affects them, has changed their life, and brings us all together. Live music is actually what brought Dan and I together and continues to be something we share in common and enjoy experiencing together.

Several weeks ago Dan and I excitedly headed to the Playstation Theatre in Midtown to see one of our favorite bands, Circa Survive, play a ten year anniversary show for their first album. I couldn't help but notice how packed the venue was, and the proximity to crazy Times Square. Down a long escalator we went, far down below ground level into a huge auditorium with few visible exit routes. I couldn't help planning in my head: "If something goes down...there's a door there that seems to go out; the escalators are through that door; standing there will avoid a rush of people if there's a stampede..." Why do we think this way in these situations? I think it's partially human nature, our natural instinct to survive. I'd never been in a situation before at a show where I've felt the need to escape, but my mind tells me to prepare and have a plan, the same as I know several ways out of my house if there was a fire. At this particular venue, packed to the brim, I could not avoid the thoughts that something terrible could happen just outside the front doors. Chaos in Times Square could create a blocked street and pin us all inside with no escape. An explosion could cause buildings to fall down on and around us. These are actual thoughts I had as I stood on my tired feet for hours waiting for one of my favorite bands to take the stage, because I know that New York, and crowded places like Times Square, are a target.

On Friday evening, I watched the events in Paris unfold online through Google News and constantly refreshing my browser. I immediately contacted a girlfriend to make sure her family and friends back home in Paris had all be accounted for. I checked Facebook to make sure the girls I know there studying abroad had checked in as safe. As far as I knew, I (and everyone I know personally) had been untouched by these unfathomable acts, but the terror was still real for all of those who followed along worldwide.

Then the headlines about the Bataclan Theatre began to take shape. As more reports came in and spread around the world, I was sucked into the news that there were people still alive and being held hostage inside. Get them out! my thoughts screamed. Please God, let there be someone trying to get them out.

I believe my reaction to this horror would have been the same had the hostages been inside of a restaurant or other public space, but this particular situation felt more relatable to me than any other terror situation in the past. I was extremely horrified in 2001 as I watched adults choose to take their own lives, as they jumped from the towers, but I had a very hard time as a fourteen year old imagining what it would be like to be in that situation—jumping from an office building in a huge city I had not experienced or understood. An attack on a plane, train, or any other common space seems something that could happen to any of us at any time, and that by chance it will be another plane, another restaurant, another city.

Though, in hearing of the Bataclan... I could see myself there. I could picture the scene and could imagine the atmosphere: a Friday night just like any other to so many of these fans enjoying one of their favorite bands live. I could picture what it would be like to be one of these fans, packed in amongst hundreds of others; the smell of beer, sweat and smoke as everyone stood back to chest in the pit trying to stay close to the stage. I could imagine being caught up in the moment, and what it would be to hear gunfire erupting over the sounds of one of my favorite songs. In a situation where my prior worst fear was being elbowed in the ribs, or having a tall guy stand in front of me, I now know something absolutely horrifying is possible in one of the places where I always felt relatively safe. I was not personally affected by the tragedy in Paris, but I have been forever changed.

I have been effectively terrorized. Since I was fourteen years old, I've lived in a world where I am frequently reminded of the prospect of terror. I am reminded each time I go through airport security and raise my arms above my head to be scanned. I think about it each time I book a plane or train ticket. I am reminded each time the lights dim in a movie theatre. I will now be reminded each and every time I go to a show. It is unavoidable that these thoughts creep into my mind in all of these circumstances, and the list keeps getting longer. Our perceived safety in these situations continues to be stripped away, as are our freedoms in the name of this supposed safety. I can only hope and pray that something will change.

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