In November of 2015, I was a few weeks away from traveling down the Rhine through scenic valleys to small Alsatian towns bedecked in their holiday finest.
And then, on November 13th, the Bataclan attacks happened. 130 people, just going about their day, killed.
Following the attack, many people asked me if I still planned on going to France, Germany, and Belgium. And not without reason – military personnel had been deployed, borders were shutting down, a manhunt was still underway, and a flood of refugees was still un-stemmed. People were nervous. They were afraid their way of life was changing, afraid of newcomers, afraid of the unpredictable and unknown.
And I couldn’t blame them. The world is a scary place. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I thought a lot about controlling the unpredictable – or rather, being controlled by the unpredictable. Following the 2015 attack, I wrote a piece about why I travel in an unsafe world. And the reason still stands: the purpose of terrorism is to impose a new way of life. The worst thing about it, if your life isn’t directly, tragically impacted, is that you choose this new way of life. You choose a new normal. You choose it by altering your activities. You choose to stay home, to cover up, to keep quiet, to not reach out, to isolate and seclude and hold back.
We got back from Germany, France, and Belgium without incident. Then Brussels airport got bombed. And Berlin and Cologne got attacked. And then Nice. Stabbings increased in London, regardless of affiliations (there were two while I was there – one occurred on a street I had been on 20 minutes prior). And the Manchester bombing which happened the night my flight landed.
When I booked my London trip, I booked a flight to Boston (home of its own attack now) with a layover in London. I’d have two days alone in London and a week or so on a tiny bus with twelve strangers. London has never felt dangerous to me despite the news reports (and especially in comparison to my hometown’s newsreel) but people kept telling me how brave I was to travel alone. And I’d say, “But I won’t be alone – I’ll be in a group!”
“So. Brave.” They’d say it shaking their heads with their eyes closed, like a meditation. And I felt like a fraud.
I’m probably more likely to get shot in my hometown than I am to get killed in a terrorist attack. I don’t stay home because of that possibility just like I don’t stay home because of terrorism. As depressing as it might seem, it’s a defiant act now to book a flight, walk alone, and talk to strangers. But the collective message it sends – the message of every person continuing to just get on with life – is worth the risks: This is our world too. And we will keep on living our lives all the way down to the boring minutiae regardless of the attempts to intimidate, control, and alter through violence. Their violence will not stop us.
Like Paris’ #JeSuisEnTerrasse following the Bataclan attacks, in which Parisians took to their cafes to defend normalcy, the citizens of Manchester banded together in a vigil following the concert hall bombing. Thousands gathered from all backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities as a statement of unity, and love, and the British spirit of getting on with it.
And after a raucous chant for the city, a solitary voice called out, “There is a light and it never goes out.”