The Paris Attacks Made Me Afraid, But They Won't Make Me Give Up
Right after I read the news about the Paris attacks on Friday, I immediately ran through the short list of Parisian friends I met at my yoga teacher training in 2013. Cecile, Laura, Bam, Claire. I started reeling them off in my head, until the repetition gained momentum and I was whispering them out loud, reciting their names over and over again. I finally pulled myself together and sent out Facebook messages and emails, begging to know if they were safe and sound. Thankfully, they all were.
On the surface, the immense tragedy that happened in Paris doesn’t have much to do with me. I have no family in France. I have never even been there. But the massacre hit home for me; I felt the same kind of grief as I did over recent similar tragedies in the United States.
When the Boston Marathon bombings took place on April 13, 2013, I was safely nestled inside a Harvard library; but all I could think about were the many people I knew who were at the event. After tearfully reading a CNN update and realizing that one of the yoga studios where I practiced and taught was on the very street where the bomb went off (you can see our building in news footage about the bombing), I desperately tried to reach my then-boyfriend, who had gone downtown to support his fellow Bostonians in the race.
I called. I texted. I called again. No response.
I stood on the steps of the library entrance alongside dozens of other students and professors, frozen and terrified for a full half hour, until his name finally popped up on my phone and he confirmed he was safe.
My apartment was within several blocks of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's home, so my whole neighborhood was on lockdown for 24 hours as they hunted for clues in his building. I sat in a pile of fear on my couch watching the news updates. I recognized every inch of the city where they searched for him, and I believed for a brief moment that it would never be safe here again.
Then, in June of this year, when nine people of color were murdered within the walls of a church in Charleston, SC, I anxiously thought of my own parents. It didn’t take much effort to imagine them taking a spontaneous trip to Charleston, accidentally landing themselves in the vicinity of the shootings. They still live in the same house where I grew up in Savannah, Georgia, and, located just two hours apart, Charleston and Savannah are sister cities. I had spent enough time in the former to know the area to know exactly where that cruelty took place. Three months prior, my boyfriend and I had actually visited Charleston for a week. I think that my heart couldn’t have felt any heavier if it had happened to my own hometown.
I was surprised to feel the same depth of grief for Paris as I did for Boston and Charleston. This time, though, there was a new layer of fear added into the mix that I couldn’t shake.
My partner and I are committed to helping people everywhere find healing through yoga, and the more we travel from one studio to the next, the more we establish meaningful relationships with individuals from all over the world. Our family gets a little bit bigger every time we go somewhere new. These friends are scattered everywhere, from Thailand to Peru, Australia to the United States.
Reading about the suicide bombings and hostages in Paris made me think how easy it would have been for someone we know to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if Cecile had decided to take her lovely daughter to the Bataclan concert hall that night? What if Claire had gone to Le Petit Cambodge with her boyfriend for dinner? Asking myself these questions has left me scared that, if there is another massacre somewhere in the world, it will take the life of someone we love.
I’m also frightened that the two of us are in danger. We’re often on the road, exploring new countries and cities; we sometimes find ourselves in high-volume tourist areas. It's like 22-year-old Isabel Bowdery, a woman who survived the Bataclan attacks, said: “You never think it will happen to you.” I can’t help but ask myself, as I watch these horrendous things occurring across the globe, Is it only a matter of time before we get caught in the middle of it?
In yoga, we constantly encourage our students to not be ruled by fear. I know that being stuck in Triangle Pose for a while doesn’t at all compare to a firsthand experience of terrorism. I know that. But it’s still a practice that has a real place outside the realm of the asanas, and we can choose to live by it.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the presence of fear the past few days, and I have realized that it can also be of use to us. Being scared doesn’t mean we hide out and forsake others. It doesn’t equal apathy or inaction. If anything, our collective unease is proof that we still live in global community — it confirms that, no matter where we are, we can deeply connect with the heartache that pulses through our fellow human beings. You don’t have to be someone who travels a lot or has many international friends to understand this feeling.
There’s also the power of social media. We now have access to countless personal accounts from those who have survived such tragedies, and reading them brings us even closer to people who might not even speak our language. It’s impossible not to perceive a profound sense of global community after hearing how 30-year-old Australian Sophie Doran played dead next to her wounded friend for half an hour. We wouldn’t wish that kind of horror on anybody, especially our loved ones, and it makes us want to fight for peace on an international level.
When it comes down to it, there was a mother who took her lovely daughter to the Bataclan concert hall. There was a woman who was sipping on wine with her sweetheart at Le Petit Cambodge. Just because they were not Cecile or Claire, or two of your friends, doesn’t make it any less devastating.
As I expressed all this to my boyfriend, half-heartedly suggesting that we lay low on the traveling for a while, he reminded me that my fear — and yours — is totally warranted. It’s also human. However, putting everything on hold to wallow in it would dishonor those whose lives were taken during Friday’s massacre. Because to be ruled by fear is to remove yourself from the global community. Instead, we have a duty to face that fear and reach out to aid our international family, in whatever way we can.