My silence on the blog has felt as tense as the atmosphere in the city; bursting at the seams with thoughts and feelings, yet unsure on how to proceed in this new reality. I have not wanted to sensationalize what I personally experienced on that Friday night or the residual trauma that inevitably continues to seize up in all of us. But it is undeniable that life seems different than it did a month ago. Sirens have taken on a new meaning and extended delays on the metro have us holding our breath. On a casual stroll on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, marks of mourning stretch across the city, flowers attached to doorways where victims formerly lived and makeshift memorials set up against lamp posts and statues, flags waving from windows and buses. The six year-old I watch has acquired the word “terrorist” to her vocabulary and I must find a way to engage in an appropriate and honest dialogue about something I have trouble comprehending myself. This is how life has changed for me.
Almost two weeks later, the fourth Thursday in November arrived in Paris carrying no greater significance than being a rather abnormally sunny fall day. Work went on as usual, though the day may have felt longer for those of us missing elaborate turkey dinners and pumpkin pie back home. I myself felt wistful all week for the comforts of family antics, my dad’s shuffling about in the kitchen, and the general American-ness that characterize the holiday for me. Sometimes it takes being far away from home to realize how attached you are to certain holidays and traditions.
In light of all that is going on in the world, it has been challenging to express my thankfulness during this time of national mourning. As humans, we cannot help but feel grateful it wasn’t us while looking into the eyes of those who suddenly find themselves bearing an incurable pain and thinking, “I’m so sorry it was you.” The state of our world, from extremism of all kinds and violence to the destruction of the environment, weighs particularly heavy on me this year, with Paris currently at the focal point of both topics. How long will checking every person’s bag and coat at every point of assembly be sustainable for protecting against a threat whose origins are intertwined in a complex history of muddled foreign interests, humankind’s fated egotism and cruelty, and the hatred that is born from the three? How much longer will bombs be used as the method of resolving this hate and extremism? I believe in the resilience of the human spirit. But our ability to be kind, empathetic, and tolerant of one another has been put into serious question for me. We seem to be spinning faster and faster to our own destruction.
As life resumes and a city comes to terms with the fragility of the present, it felt especially important to gather with friends and share in the traditions that tie us together. Unable to declare our own national holiday on Thursday, we held our Friendsgiving on the following Sunday in a little apartment on the very top floor under the rafters. The 3 kilo turkey was splayed open in a baking dish in order to cram it into the tiny oven (capacity of 1.5 kilos…) and we crossed our fingers that the turkey would finish cooking before the sagging rack gave way under its burden. Friendly debates about the quantity of garlic and butter to add to mashed potatoes, how to describe stuffing to our French guests, and the proper way to carve a turkey filled the cramped kitchen as the familiar scents of home began wafting through the air. Everyone had to compromise on at least one element of the meal since each of us have our own attachments to family recipes and tastes. For my part, I contributed my family’s veggie-filled stuffing and experienced my first marshmallow-topped sweet potato casserole but I missed my cousin’s tart cranberry sauce. No one had a problem with the wine, though – we’d never had better on Thanksgiving!
But the combination of these various traditions spiked with French accouterments shared among friends with different histories and backgrounds represented everything I wish for our world. As this month of violence and changes in a way of life comes to an end, I am thankful for things that I didn’t know how to be grateful for before. On this first Friendsgiving in Paris, we raised our glasses to France, friendships that break down language barriers, distance and religion, and the choice to feel grateful every day of the year.