After the attacks: la vie continue

Katie Johnsen
December 6, 2015

On the night of November 13, a few friends and I were several feet deep into the earth, enjoying dinner, in an Italian wine cave in Florence. No wifi, no service, and no connection to the world beyond what we could see in front of us, we were happily absorbed in our immediate atmosphere. A short while later, heavy with pasta and warm with wine and good company, we emerged from the cellar in high, light-hearted spirits. It was hard to think of anything that could rupture our bubble. And then, from thousands of miles away, the texts started raining in like arrows.

"Are you ok??"

"Just heard about what's going on - are you safe?"

"You're not in Paris are you??"

Slowly at first, as we tried to piece together what was going on, and then picking up speed, our calm evening turned increasingly fraught. How bizarre, that my friends on the other side of the Atlantic had heard first the details of a coordinated attack in the city I now called home, while I had no idea. How unreal, how far-off the situation felt as we stood on that quiet Italian street corner playing catch-up while the events unravelled a few cities north. It really wasn't until we got back to the hotel, smartphones hooked on the wifi and TV switched on that we could start to conceptualize what had happened and what was still going on. All of the sudden, to our American friends and families, we were the resources, the eye-witnesses to whom both concern and questions were being directed. But there we were feeling more uninformed, more disconnected than anyone else. 

On Sunday morning we flew back to Paris, anxious to get home and see our bruised city in person. My taxi driver and I had a long conversation on my ride back from the airport about the attrocities of the weekend and the inability to explain or rationalize the terrible acts. How can you find a motive for the destruction of everyday life? What he knew was that these terrorists had no respect for human life, even their own, and were not worthy of our fear. The best thing we could do to fight back was to keep living.

As I would hear often over the next few days, "la vie continue." At first, this phrase struck me in a sour way. Just saying "life goes on" seemed too casual and too cavalier, too dismissive of the very real and wrenching tragedy. Shouldn't life stop staunchly in its tracks and refuse to keep going on in the same way? But I've realized now that this statement, rather than one of resignment, is one of resillience. It asserts that life will go on, in spite of the terror and the hatred and the wish of a few radicals to stop our way of life all together. It reaffirms what I have recented learned to be the devise of Paris: "Fluctuat nec mergitur" : "Tossed but not sunk." We acknowledge our scars but don't allow them to kill us. The events of November 13 were attacks on life, and, admirably, the French simply refuse to stop living it to the fullest.     

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Katie Johnsen

<p>Hi, I&#39;m Katie Johnsen, a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia. I am a Media Studies and French double major studying abroad in Paris this semester in the Business &amp; International Affairs program. I enjoying writing, photography, and exploring new places and people, and am excited to share my abroad experiences with you!</p>

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