About seven months ago, on a hot day in July, I was standing underneath the Eiffel Tower. Paris was the first city that I had ever traveled to by myself, and while I was nervous about being alone in a place where I didn’t speak the language I never felt truly afraid. I was even in the city over Bastille day, and after the fireworks I traveled back to my hostel by myself. The metro was mobbed with people and the police kept shutting down stops until the crowds died down. I found myself wandering up street after street until I finally came across an open stop.
I was stuck on the stairs with people on every side of me, and it must have taken an additional hour or so just to get onto the platform and then to fit onto a train. My hostel was in the tenth arrondissement, right by the Gare du Nord train station. On November 13th, 2015 the attacks on Paris took place. I was safe at home, but I sat in disbelief at my kitchen table. I wondered how something like this happened. After looking at the locations of the different attacks I realized that my hostel was a twenty minute walk from one of the spots.
I think about how instead of standing on stairs surrounded by people in celebration I very easily could have been standing in panic with those who were watching the city become a target. Brussels was the next city I traveled to after paris. I took the train from Gare du Nord into Brussels city center, and I remember thinking that the only reason that people came to Brussels was to indulge in chocolate and beer. Then this last Tuesday there was an attack at the airport and another metro station.
Some of the craziest and most memorable things happened to me while I was in Brussels and to see it show up as a site of fear and violence broke my heart. When you travel I think you take a little piece of each city with you and you leave a piece behind. Paris and Brussels were the first places I learned how to be on my own and for those few days they were like a home. A place where I made memories, and built communities out of fellow travelers and kind locals. They are cities filled with warmth and adventure, and my life is changed for having been there.
These are dark times. Brussels and Paris are not the only places in the world that are suffering, and there are some stories that never reach our ears. Fear is a powerful force. It twists our brains and forces us to act in ways that are unimaginable. However, fear is not and never will be an excuse for oppression. It is not an excuse for blind hate. It does not allow us to persecute and monitor those who simply seek a better life. Those who bring violence against the world and bring violence to the vulnerable and defenseless should be brought to justice, but as we fight against those forces we should also continue to love. We should continue to travel, and we should continue to seek understanding.