August 29, 2016

The Paris Post I Didn't Want to Write

Since coming back from Paris, there is one thing that I haven't been able to get off my mind. Paris is one my of favorite cities. When The Pilot and I have traveled to Paris every 2 years since almost religiously since we've been together, and we will absolutely return.

I love Paris. I love the people, the food, the language, culture, and music. I fell in love with Paris the first time I went there in a way I never expected to (though I fully expected to fall for Barcelona that way and didn't enjoy it at all).

Paris is one of the oldest cities in Europe, and so much of the city has changed (like this beautiful intersection in the Latin Quarter which used to be a fact, the river still flows underneath, compacted beneath 8 feet of concrete and what used to be a cemetery. (Yup). 

Yet so much of the city has remained the same, and it's absolutely wonderful.

This trip to Paris, however, there was a definite change...something new to the city that has stayed with me since coming home.

In nearly every subway station, and on several streets throughout the city, there are families of Syrian refugees. Many of them stand, holding passports or pictures of family members they are trying to be reunited with. They aren't begging for food, or money, they want to know that their family members are alive, and to be reconnected with them.

It was truly one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life. These refugees had expressions on their faces that only the pain of not knowing what has happened to one's family can etch. Living in major cities my entire adult life, I have sadly grown accustomed to walking past homeless people on the street, only occasionally stopping to offer food or change, but in Paris, I couldn't ignore them.

I looked at them, saddled with guilt. Guilt that we have allowed their country to be leveled into a burial ground, guilt that we allow "the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII to refer to a new situation, country, or group of people every few years, guilt that despite getting a Master's degree in a field designed to protect these very people, I'm not doing that, and more importantly, guilt that I live in a country where my own parents escaped to, where the rhetoric against refugees, against everyone fleeing to this country, is so hateful and in opposition to the very freedoms that my parents fled to.

Why am I talking about this? The reality is that I can't write about Paris without thinking about the fathers holding pictures of their little girls, women holding pictures of their sons and husbands. It doesn't feel right to talk about visiting the Louvre and eating macarons when each of those experiences began with a journey where I witnessed pain that shouldn't exist in this world.

On one afternoon, we were connecting metro lines at Chatelet and I saw a young woman, probably about my age, maybe a little bit older, sitting on the floor talking to a woman sitting on a piece of cardboard by herself holding a passport in her hand. The Syrian woman was telling her story and I saw her smile and I was so grateful to the world that someone could make her smile. Had I spoken Arabic, I like to think I would have done the same thing and tried to talk to every one of them, to see if I could help in some way. That young woman, who took time out of her day, our of her busy commute, to stop and try and offer someone some compassion - she restored my faith in humanity and I pray that others in Paris, in Germany, and across the world, are doing the same.

I've struggled with writing about my trip because I didn't feel right talking about it without sharing what is happening in Paris, and an experience that will always remind me how to count my blessings and to be compassionate.

"You may choose to to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know." - William Wilburforce

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