I rolled over to see if Sky had gotten out of bed, but before I could, he said, "There was a terrorist attack in Nice. At a Bastille Day celebration."
I was still for a second, letting it all sink in.
Another act of senseless violence. More lives lost.
Suddenly, the laughter of my kids and the sounds outside retreated and I was just left in that moment horrified, saddened, heartbroken, and worst of all, fearful. It could have been us. It could have been here. It could have been at the soccer fan zone in Paris. The what-ifs, the fear...that is what "they" want.
I think I asked Sky a question. I don't remember. I grabbed my phone and saw that I had text messages, Facebook messages and posts on my timeline, from friends and family making sure we were okay. For a moment, I was surrounded by the love of those who feared for me.
I opened the NY Times app to read up on the details. A truck had plowed through the celebration killing over 70 people, wounding even more. The pictures horrified me. Although we may be safe as we more than eight hours from Nice, thankfully, and everyone is fine...physically, our ground has been shaken.
It is a powerful thing and these acts of terror harness this and use it to destroy us.
Really, this has been the experience of most of us since the twin towers fell in 2001. We are living in a ebb and flow of post-traumatic stress, that dissipates the further we get from an attack before spiking immediately after each new act of violence. Sixteen years. The majority of my adult life has spent in peaks and valleys of fear.
Life in Strasbourg today has gone on as normal. Tourists flock to the Cathedral. Shops have opened for business as usual. The distance between us and Nice is enough to help us feel safe here. Yet, inside, we know better. Heavily armed military walk the streets, fingers hovering over the triggers of automatic weapons.
Then, the roar of a motorcycle, coming up from behind, sent anxiety through my body, as I imagined him rushing through the crowded square shooting at people. At lunch, I was anxiously alert, scanning the crowds as they walked by. There was moment where I imagined needing to flip the tables, pull myself on top of the kids, and shield them from the shrapnel of an explosion. Walking around the shops, I looked at each store to determine if we could run inside to take cover if necessary.
But then, I hear my kids laugh again. I hear people in the streets below. I hear the wail of what sounded like a mourning dove from the tree outside my window. And the water rushed through the dam once again.
I want to feel optimistic. But I know, for awhile at least, I will be fearful. Then, I will return to the United States and be surrounded by the violence there, acts of racial hatred against my friends and family, acts of gender violence, and acts of random violence. The fear will fade though, because I want to see the light. I want to see a future where this is not the reality. I also know that the "us versus them" narrative is what destroys us and leads to more violence.
To start, we must shift the fictitious narrative that divides us. There is no us. There is no them. We are not enemies. We are humans. There are people who make decisions that horrify us. They...those people who make those decisions...are a small percentage of the world's population. I would venture to guess, if we counted up all of the so called "bad guys" from the beginning of recorded history, we would find they make up a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the people that have ever existed.
And while these events are horrifying in the moment, we have to remember the world is vastly full of kindness and love and hope.
This must drive us forward. This must be our beacon of light for the future. This must be what drives us to continue working for peace. It is with those thoughts in mind that I will again let my guard down. I will say hello to people as I pass, regardless of their religion, their race, their class. I will lend a hand. I will make everyone I meet know they are accepted.
And I will work tirelessly in my classroom to help shift the narrative of hate to a narrative of love, courage and peace. We must all be active. We must all be present. We must show those who seek to hurt us and make us fearful that we are not deterred from the work of peace.
While we cannot bring back the lives of those who have been lost, we can continue to face tomorrow with courage and work towards creating a world where no more lives are senselessly lost. Maya Angelou eloquently said, "You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them."