I Sit In Paris, Heartbroken, But Terror Won't Change How We LIVE

Photo: Instagram / @la_chatel
Bastille Day France Fireworks

I won’t be stifled. Nor should you.

I’m fortunate enough to call France my second home — Paris, specifically.

I live here, I love here and I dream here.

If you haven't been to Paris, you should come. It’s beautiful, spectacular, and all the things you read about Paris or see in the movies don’t do it justice. As a New Yorker, I’d say the same about New York.

But, over the last few years, France has been hit hard by terrorism. In January of 2015, the Charlie Hebdo offices were attacked by terrorists. Charlie Hebdo is a satirical weekly news magazine, in which they make fun of everything. Emphasis on everything — most notably, religion.

While many religious people can laugh off such things, certain fundamentalists cannot. Because of that, 11 people died during those attacks. All in name of religion.

“‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.” — Salman Rushdie

I returned to Paris in April of 2015. It’s my second home. I would never abandon it.

Less than a year later, on November 13, 2015, Paris was hit again.

It may not have been directed at a specific target (like a satirical newspaper) but it was directed at a way of life.

On that Friday night, like any other Friday night in Paris, people were out having fun, doing what people do — living their lives. A terrorist attack claimed 130 of those lives.

Why? Because they were enjoying a Friday night out.

Just as with the Charlie Hebdo attack, my heart broke. I cried for days. But it didn’t stop me from returning to the city I love.

After that, many terrorist attacks followed — Belgium, Turkey, and Iraq. Obscene amounts of lives were lost. Again, for what?

Because people were living their lives by a code of which the fundamentalist does not approve.

“The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings. Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multi-party political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skits, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex.” — Salman Rushdie

I’m in Paris again. Aside from a jaunt to Spain for a few weeks, I have been here since April.

Tonight, as I have for the past several years, I joined friends to celebrate Le Quatorze Juillet.

To people who do not live in France, this is known as Bastille Day — the day that celebrates the storming of the Bastille. It is, in the simplest of terms, the equivalent to America’s Independence Day.

In that moment, the tides of the French Revolution were changed and all was won. It’s a monumental part of French history and, as we do in the States, it is celebrated with fireworks, a parade, and general jovialness. It’s the day France won their freedom against a tyranny that had oppressed them for far too long.

As we usually do, we met up at a café for wine, before heading to one of the many bridges over la Seine. This year, with thousands of others, we chose to watch the fireworks from Pont de Grenelle.

I’m not a fan of fireworks, but as a fan of Paris, I like to attend — and it never disappoints.

I was surrounded by both French natives and tourists who had traveled to see this epic firework display. Some were old, some were just kids, some were drunk, some drank wine straight from the bottle a la Serge Gainsbourg, some ate ice cream, and some, like me, stood and took photos for friends back home who had never seen such a display.

Terrorism was far from my mind. Sort of.

For all of 30 seconds, quickly thinking about the past two years, I realized we were a prime target.

I didn’t look around for suspicious people or even a way out of the crowd, just in case. The thought came and went.

But, in that moment, I decided — I’m living my life. So … you know, whatever.

When the fireworks ended, I kissed my friends goodbye and made my way to a very packed metro. I got off at the Pigalle stop, where I’m currently living, stopped for some wine and cheese, and headed home. When I turned on my phone again, I had dozens of messages from friends and family to see if I was safe. I scoffed. Of course I was safe. If something had happened in Paris, I would know. Then I turned on CNN and saw what happened in Nice.

“But what are we for? What will we risk our lives to defend? Can we unanimously concur that all the items in the preceding list — yes, even the short skirts and the dancing — are worth dying for?” — Salman Rushdie

Immediately, I was heart sick.

I was not in Nice tonight. I did not lose someone I love, nor did I lose someone I even met in passing, to the best of my knowledge. But I did lose something: a further sense of safety.

I’m not the type of person who makes things about myself.

When 9/11 happened, I had friends in Boston saying, “But I take United all the time.” Um, no. That’s not how it works; this isn’t about you.

I was watching fireworks tonight in Paris while people were being murdered in Nice in the name of religion.

That is not something that I will turn into something about me. I was watching fireworks to celebrate Bastille Day, as were the innocent souls who were taken. But I’m not going to say, “That could have been me.” That’s insulting to all of us.

I’m no saint, but I know when to shut the fuck up.

But what I do know is that the lives lost tonight were lost because they were living their lives. They were doing, by all accounts, what the fundamentalist hates: Not living by their code.

So, in that regard, it’s about me and it’s about you, too.

Full disclosure: I’m an atheist. Despite my mother’s attempt to raise both my sister and I Catholic, I had a father who instilled in us, early on, that religion was the cause the for the majority of deaths throughout history. And he spoke the truth.

Here’s the thing: There’s a difference between a religious person and a fanatic. Such a difference. In the wake of so many terrorist attacks, I know it’s easy to point fingers to one religion and place blame, but that’s so wrong that there aren’t even the words for how wrong it is.

My proof? I went on a date with a Muslim guy just last week. This man actually wept about the gun problem in the United States.

He condemned the people who dared to call themselves Muslim but who take the lives of other in the name of Allah. “They’re not reading the Qur’an correctly,” he said. “Just like fanatical Christians don’t read the Bible correctly.”

These terrorist attacks, the ones that shake us to our core, are not about religion; they’re about fanaticism.

“The fundamentalist believes that we believe in nothing. In his world-view, he has his absolute certainties, while we are sunk in sybaritic indulgences.” — Salman Rushdie

I believe in lots of things. I believe in going out and enjoying life. I believe in going into crowded places, drinking too much, and wearing a short a skirt. I believe I can fuck whom I want, read what I want, listen to what I want, and love who I want.

I believe that this life is my only life, so I’m going to make it the best life possible.

I’m not going to censor myself or mute my life out of fear. I’m not going to avoid crowded places because of the fundamentalist.

I’m not going to silence my voice, hide under a rock, or live my life in fear. I’m going to take it all in. I’m going to give it my all, and fuck those who can’t tolerate my life choices. Fuck those who try to inflict fear upon others.

As I sit here in Paris, is my heart broken? Yes, a million times over.

Am I crying? Yes, to the point of being sick, but I won’t be apprehended.

I won’t be stifled. Nor should you.

“How to defeat terrorism? Don't be terrorized. Don't let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.” — Salman Rushdie

This is a war not just on humanity, but how we live our lives. Am I scared? Fuck, yes. But will that stop me? Never.

I’m going to drink all the wine I want. I’m going to wear the shortest skirts I want. I’m going to eat all the bacon sandwiches I want.

I’m going to stand on a crowded bridge and watch the fireworks celebrating the independence of Paris… and, when I get home to New York, I’m going to frequent Times Square, although I don’t particularly care for it, as much as I want.

Why? Because this is my life and I get to decide. The terrorist wants you and I to cower and say “Uncle.” But, when you don’t, no matter the outcome, you win. I win. We all win.

My point? Live your life.

Get on the next plane to Paris.

Kiss the person you love in public.

Wear whatever you want.

Read and listen to whatever you want.

Because, every time you do, you’re throwing up a middle finger to them and saying, “Fuck you. I do what I want.”

Will this end terrorism? No.

Will it defeat the terrorists? Fuck yes.