Boarding a United flight from Chicago to Paris, Charles de Gaulle last Friday evening was a test of resolve. Passengers intently studied smart phones; United representatives repeatedly turned to the PA; overwhelmed travelers disembarked after boarding uncertain as news of the terrorist attacks ebbed and flowed. France was closing its borders; our flight would divert to Brussels if sunrise over the European continent denied us permission to land. My ninth grade daughter and I reviewed our options. There was no correct decision, just consequences to our choices. “How flexible do you want to be?” I inquired. She thought we should commit. Soon we were jetting into arctic air, away from the frenzy of real-time updates and towards the scene of tragedy. Committing to an uncertain future required preparation for disruption.
During our first night in Paris, we navigated the desolate streets to a classic vantage point on the River Seine. The Eiffel Tower stood devoid of the iconic illumination show; the searchlight beacon dimmed as if incapable of penetrating the tragedy. Closed museums, off-limit playgrounds, gated parks, fortified landmarks, bag and torso checks at the entrance to public buildings were omnipresent. A couple checking-in to the hotel and being informed of the numerous closures responded, “That is the right thing to do. Of course, everyone needs to be safe.” Few cafes and restaurants opened. Yet, the hashtag #portouvert trended on twitter offering the displaced housing, food, and safety. While fortification and security prevailed, the French citizens opened their doors to strangers.
Forever Changed by Hope
Our third night in Paris was marked by the illumination of monuments. A chance for a deep breath and a stroll. A partially opened Eiffel Tower permitted ascent to the second level and the vantage to take in the architecture of shadows as waves of rain washed across the city. Parks and museums accepted culturally starved visitors. The spirit of the city raised from catacomb to cafe. We departed forever changed by Paris. We had walked among sorrow and witnessed spirits bend in torrential circumstance, only to rebound with hope.