Amid our reactions to America’s new president-elect, his 100-day plan and nationwide protests against him, I am ashamed to realize we all missed an important day. These domestic issues are certainly significant, but the fact we completely ignored this day speaks to our American self-absorption.
Last Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the 2015 Paris attacks, wherein Islamic State extremists killed 130 civilians in various public spaces.
365 days later, France is still hurting. Tourism is dropping, armed forces roam city streets and the country is still under a state of emergency that may be extended yet again. Nine people remain hospitalized from the attacks; others are paralyzed. Hundreds are still receiving psychological treatment. The French people are scared, suspicious of one another and unsure of the government’s ability to protect them.
So on Nov. 13 the French nation gathered to honor the survivors and victims’ families, pleading for unity. At midday, hundreds of balloons filled the air. At dusk, paper lanterns were released into the Canal Saint-Martin, bearing red, white and blue lights. Onlookers ranging from children to seniors lined the canal and surrounding bridges, watching silently as the lanterns bobbed past.
Many called for integration and acceptance as a way to combat the hate that bred the attacks, including Michael Dias, whose father was killed by a suicide bomber. “Long live tolerance, long live intelligence, long live France,” he said.
France remembers the day well.
I remember that day too. Too young to recall 9/11, the news hit me like a sucker punch and tears rimmed my eyelids. How could people commit such atrocities? I updated my Facebook profile picture to feature the French flag and I Tweeted “#PrayForParis. Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Unité, solidarité, bravoure,” feeling very proud of myself for doing so.
Yes, that week in November 2015, I thought about Paris for many, many hours. But then my life carried on. Classes picked up momentum, I enjoyed Thanksgiving and Christmas and the New Year rang itself in, my corner of the world ultimately unchanged by the horrific acts committed in Paris.
In the days following the attacks, landmarks around the world shone blue, white and red in a show of solidarity with the City of Lights. But they, too, eventually went back to business as usual.
We owe our French allies more. These are the men and women who expressed an unprecedented level of sympathy following the 9/11 attacks on New York City. “Today,” the French newspaper Le Monde announced, “we are all Americans.” Businessmen and widows called the embassy offering their beds to Americans stuck at the airport, and at noon on the official day of mourning, pedestrians stopped in their path and cars pulled off the road to observe the three minutes of silence. One American expatriate on Reddit recalls the hundreds of Parisians who had gathered at Notre Dame to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
All of that was in immediate response to 9/11. The fact that makes my stomach drop is that in 2011, ten years after 9/11, the French government unfurled a massive U.S. flag beside the Eiffel Tower. The Tower was flanked by 82-foot-tall replicas of the World Trade Center, emblazoned with a slogan of solidarity, in French and English: “Les Français N’oublieront Jaimais. The French Will Never Forget.”
What did we do on Paris’s somber anniversary? Anti-Trump protests continued for their fifth day, we complained about the Electoral College and we ooh-ed over the Supermoon.
We must keep our friends in mind even as our own problems keep us up at night. It’s easy to walk the walk of solidarity for a day, but ask any widower when emotional support means the most — on the quiet, unremarkable days when the “tourists” have gone home. Don’t be a tourist when it comes to showing support, there one day and gone the next.
I implore our national leadership to officially send our support to France and Paris. Set up a scene of solidarity as they did for us. More locally, readers, update your profile picture again. Post a message of sincere support. If you have friends overseas, call them and let them know you’re still keeping them in your prayers. Let France and the rest of the world know that we have not forgotten them amid our everyday bedlam.