I know it is not professional to cry at work. However, on Saturday, November 14, 2015, I just couldn’t control my tears. I personally wasn’t having any problems. Instead, the world was in chaos and utterly crestfallen. The night before, November 13, 2015, Paris, France, was under attack by Isis Terrorists. My brother, Tony, my sister-in-law, Mary, and I sat in front of the TV glued to CNN for the latest updates and reports. As I listened to the news, I felt horrified and outraged. I felt anger and confusion. I felt sympathy and heartbreak. I didn’t cry at that moment though. I don’t know if I was just in shock or I had yet to process all of the information. I intellectually understood what had happened but my emotions were overwhelmed.
The next morning, Saturday, November 14, I had gone to work at 6 am. I briefly discussed the Paris situation with one of my co-workers. We both expressed our disgust and anger over the circumstances. My emotions did not burst into action, though, until I went on my first break. At 8:30 am, I walked into the break room, grabbed my diet coke out of the refrigerator, and sat down in front of the large screen TV. The Today Show was on and the number one topic, of course, was the situation in Paris. As I listened to the news updates, I couldn’t stop the tears that suddenly swam in my eyes and then drifted down my cheeks. The news reports were focused on the many beautiful, brave people who had suffered the attack. My tears started flowing when I heard about the spectators who were at the soccer stadium watching France play against Germany when the first explosions occurred. Many people at the stadium confessed that they thought they were hearing fireworks and didn’t realize until later that they were actually hearing two suicide bombers. The spectators were held at the stadium for a while until they were finally free to go home. It was reported that as the people left the stadium, they walked out singing the France national anthem. I couldn’t stop my tears as I watched these brave souls walking through the stadium with their heads held high and their voices ringing out in solidarity as they sang the national anthem. It was beautiful, encouraging, and incredibly moving.
Then Matt Lauer came on the screen and announced that a young woman who had been at the restaurant that was attacked by the terrorist was going to give details about her experience. A young woman, Charlotte, now appeared in front of me. Charlotte’s beautiful face appeared stiff and her eyes looked wide and stunned. She had the appearance of someone who had withstood a terrible shock. But when she began to speak, I was mesmerized by her words and demeanor. She was brilliant, articulate, and spoke with clarity and compassion. She explained to Lauer and the television audience that she had been eating dinner at the restaurant at the time of the attacks. When the bombs first went off, she, too, believed that they were fireworks. But suddenly the windows began to shatter and shards of glass were flying everywhere. Everyone in the restaurant got down on the floor and tried to protect him- or herself from the madness. Charlotte claimed that a woman beside her suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand. Charlotte held on tight to the stranger’s hand as the gunfire and bombs continued. Finally, the woman looked at Charlotte and said, “We are going to survive, right?” Charlotte had responded, “Yes, we will survive.” Only then did Charlotte turn to look at the stranger and discovered that the woman gripping her hand was dying. The stranger had been shot in the chest and blood was everywhere. Charlotte continued to hold the woman’s hand until the attack, and life itself, had come to an end.
I didn’t care if my coworkers in the break room thought I was crazy. I openly cried as I listened to Charlotte’s story. Even though I was at work, I didn’t want to control my emotions. My prayers and thoughts went out to Charlotte and the stranger beside her. I couldn’t stop thinking of the people of Paris walking together while singing the National Anthem even in the wake of horrifying tragedy. I was heartbroken over Paris and sad for all of her people.
I had been so fortunate to be in Paris several years ago. I was going to school in England and had the opportunity to do some extended traveling. I traveled all through Europe and loved every country I was able to visit. Paris, France, however, was one of my favorite places. Even then, the city shined with warmth, dignity, and a sophistication I had never experienced before.
My friends and I first visited the Eiffel Tower. Now, I have to be honest. When I first saw the Eiffel Tower, I wasn’t very impressed. It just looked like a huge, cold, steel structure to me. I walked around with my friends and took some pictures but was rather disappointed. Maybe it was just the fact that I had heard about the tower for so long and had seen so many pictures of it, I had expected something more. However, my feelings soon changed. My friends and I decided to climb the tower. Climbing up the Eiffel tower to the top was exhilarating! I enjoyed the activity and received a magnificent award for the effort. The view was incredible! I vividly remember standing at the top of the tower and gazing down on Paris. The city was alive and vibrant. Even at the top of the tower, I was able to feel an energy buzzing all around me from the streets and buildings and parks below.
My friends and I visited the tower again that night…and that’s when the magic came alive! Seeing the Eiffel Tower aglow with lights is one of my most precious memories. It was a stunning, incredible sight. Now, I realized why Paris is called The City of Lights. The illumination was blindingly mesmerizing. I feel in love with the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris in that one spectacular moment.
The next day, I ventured out on my own to explore. I traveled to Notre Dame Cathedral, the setting of Victor Hugo’s amazing classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of my all-time favorite books. The design of the cathedral is enchanting and I felt immediately transported to another century as I walked serenely and silently around the grounds and the interior of the building. I felt a similar reverence when I toured the Louvre Museum and stood gazing starry-eyed at Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting. I was also fascinated by the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the Champs-Elysees. The Arc was built for Napoleon after one of his many victories and honors the soldiers of the French Revolution.
After visiting these monuments, I decided to stroll down the main streets and visit a few of the quaint and elegant boutiques. I tried on several dresses but couldn’t afford to buy anything. I was young and happy and just thought it was a thrill to be trying on cute party/cocktail dresses at shops lining the streets of Paris.
One of the main streets in Paris is completely illuminated with bright white lights. All of the shops and restaurants on this street had agreed that their signs, marquees, and widow displays would be white only. Even McDonald’s agreed to this arrangement. There were no golden arches at this McDonald’s. The large arches that stretched up into the dark night sky were completely white.
I was surprised to find that the interior of McDonald’s was completely made up of marble, brass, and gold. The restaurant had two levels. The bottom level held many tables and chairs. The upper level contained the service counter. Two long, wide, marble staircases curved around both sides of the restaurant. In awe of the opulence, I slowly climbed the stairs, walked past the service counter, and over to the bathrooms. The ladies’ room was just as elegant with gold faucets and marble counters. An elderly female bathroom attendant stood right inside the doorway. She smiled as she gripped some silver tongs, reached into the square basket resting in her arms, and picked up a hot, wet towel which she handed over to me. I thanked her as I tried to pretend that I knew what to do with the small, white towel. I noticed a tip jar standing on a small, square table. I dug through my purse and threw a few scattered coins into the jar before exiting the bathroom. I walked back down the stairs, across the dining room, and out the front door. I was still surprised that the beautifully decorated restaurant with the elaborate décor was actually a McDonald’s.
After wandering the streets for a few more minutes, I decided to get a cup of tea at an outside restaurant. I sat down on a delicate, black, wrought-iron chair and placed my purse up the round, checkered table. I ordered a cup of hot tea from the large, jovial server. The man was very nice and very handsome with thick, dark hair and a thin mustache. Surprisingly, he found me rather attractive, too!
He soon brought the tea, in a delicate china cup that I was terrified of breaking, over to my table, but he didn’t walk away. He stood by my table and stared at me for a moment. Then he said, “You are so beautiful.”
I blushed and awkwardly whispered a “Thank you” as I shifted on the small, padded cushion. The man did not go away, though. He continued to talk. “Please come back and see me tonight,” he stated. “I leave work at 8 pm. I want to see you again.”
I stared at him in shock, thinking that maybe I was misunderstanding his words. Was he speaking a language I was misinterpreting? But, no, he was speaking clear, flawless English with an attractive lilt to his voice. I unfortunately had to turn him down. My friends and I were leaving for Germany that night. I told him I was unavailable, but he didn’t stop. He continued to ask me to come back that evening. I sipped my tea nervously and tried to pretend that I was a sophisticated young woman. But the actual truth was that I was shocked and confused by his forwardness. I don’t think I had every experienced that before. (Later, I would again struggle against the affability of European men in both Italy and Germany…but those are stories for another time.)
Finally, I got up from my table and walked down a flight of concrete steps to the bathroom. A few minutes later, I was surprised to find my amorous waiter waiting for me when I opened the door. “You are so beautiful,” he sighed as he reached down and grabbed my hands. His strong hands wrapped tightly around my own as he held them close to his heart. “You must come back. I will be done at 8. Please come back.” Then he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek…and then he kissed the other cheek…while I tried to pull my hands out of his.
I tried to explain again that I was leaving for Germany that night as I tried to angle my way over to the stairs. But he was still holding on to my hands. I continued to walk over to the stairs and was pulling my affectionate waiter up along with me as I tried to extract my hands from his. Finally, at the top of the stairs, I was able to ease my hands away, say a swift good-bye, and walk off down the street. The situation may have been a little shocking at first. It may sound as if the waiter had behaved completely inappropriately, but it really wasn’t scary or threatening. I didn’t feel like I was in any danger. It was actually a really sweet moment and remains one of my favorite memories of Paris.
So, now, as I watched The Today Show and viewed the destruction of wonderful Paris, I wondered where my waiter was now. I wondered if he was safe. I thought of the Eiffel tower and the Louvre. I thought of the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame cathedral. Beautiful, stunning, sophisticated, romantic Paris…an illuminated city suddenly dark…what a shame…what a damn shame!
I dried my tears and went back to work but Paris remained in my thoughts, memories, and prayers. Yet, overall, a spark of hope remained. The Parisian people are honorable, courageous, sophisticated, loving, proud…Paris may change but it will never be destroyed because the people will never surrender and will fight for Victory as they did in both World Wars. I believe in Paris and I believe in her people. History has proven that Paris will never give up in defeat and her people will remain strong.
Pray for Peace for Paris.