On Wednesday, January 7th I did nothing of interest. I slept in very late. And when I woke up and opened my computer, I read the news. I stared at the screen for a long time and I told my roommate what was happening. I opened the window, and looked down the street. Everything was normal. Quiet, a little empty, but normal.
Like so many other times in my life, when tragedy happens I do ordinary things. I went to the grocery store. I went to eye doctor store, to buy special contact solution. I took a walk to Opéra, to my bank and for once, deposited money. I had my headphones on, there were lots of tourists and people exploring the January sales, and the occasional siren.
I patiently waited for Thursday.
On Thursday I woke up earlier, and I went to class at monde anglophone. We started class like normal; we discussed the female characters in Faulkner, and the upcoming final exam. At noon we stood up, and spent one minute in silence. I tried to think hard about everything I knew about Charlie Hebdo. It was not much, and most of it I had learned the day before.
When we sat down my professor, holding back tears unsuccessfully, encouragaed us to talk. To say something, anything, about this event. Her visible sadness made me sad. When a student started to speak, she too choked on her words and suddenly the eyes were on me.
“Kristin, as a foreigner here, do you have anything you’d like to say?”
No, I didn’t. Something stumbled out of my mouth between my teeth into the void of that classroom, but it was nothing significant or useful. I felt upset and angry at myself for not being able to say anything. Class ended early, and it wasn’t until I got home that my roommate told me about Montrouge.
I patiently waited for Friday.
On Friday I woke up even earlier. I walked to Opéra and got on the line 7 to school. I walked up three flights of stairs and sat down in the crowded classroom. I took out my notes and quickly skimmed the page. Unprepared, I waited for the professor to hand out the exam. Literature theory, Genette, please write an organized commentary on the following citation.
My mind was elsewhere.
I took the metro home, exhausted and hungry. I opened my computer and stalked twitter accounts when I read about Vincennes. All that went through my head was “no no no no no no no no.” I couldn’t care a single bit about my final class that afternoon. But I made my way back to school.
On the first floor I took my usual seat in the back of room, next to my friends. Our professor arrives several minutes late in a rush and begins talking immediately about Charlie. She speaks fast and I have difficulty hearing, bad choice of a seat on my part, but I listen intently. Then a Muslim student who always sits in the front, stands in front of us in that small room. She speaks for a half an hour, fighting tears the entire time. She has to take pauses. She speaks about her religion, her family, the Muslim community, and the two men who murdered the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. From my seat in the back I watched her so bravely stand in front of us and explain it all. Her courage made me feel so proud of her, this person whose name I don’t even know. I felt so cowardly myself, so uneducated and uninformed.
We clapped when she finished, we thanked her for sharing with us. It was such a needed and beautiful presentation. I thought about the discrimation the Muslim community in France is going to face in light of these attacks, and I felt so helpless.
The rest of Friday, and Saturday, passed without incidcent. The men were shot and killed. I cleaned my room. I went to a party. I lived the guilty-normal life that guilty-normal people live after a tragic event. I thought a lot about France. I thought about the people here, the French people, and what are they thinking? I thought about the foreigners here, myself included. I thought about the foreigners who must have been in New York on September 11th. I thought about the book I once read, “Leaving the Atocha Station,” and the foreigners who were in Spain after the train station bombing.
Sunday finally arrived. I slept in again. I woke up and did my hair in pigtails, made my face look nice, and put on my boots. At 2pm I walked to the metro. Already it was chaotic so I altered my route. I ended up at Chatêlet and started walked toward Strasbourg Saint Denis. Already the streets were packed and everyone was marching quickly in the same direction. Everywhere was the white and black “Je Suis Charlie.”
My phone wouldn’t work and I couldn’t find my friends so I started marching with the crowd down Boulevard Saint Martin toward République. Soon, we stopped. The crowd was enormous. No one could move in any direction. I read all the signs around me. Some clever, some very sad. I listened to the conversations around me. Some funny, some political, some boring. Every once and a while clapping or singing would start in front of us or behind us. Then it would reach us, and we would clap and sing until the moment ended.
I stood in essentially the same spot for two hours. Inch by inch I was moving forward until somehow there was a break away spot and I could see La Marianne in the center of Place de la République. I walked quickly toward the circle, observing new people and new signs. I hit a road block of humans again, as I made my way around the back of the place.
The more I read the names of the men and women killed in the recent days, and the more I stared at the persons who had climbed La Marianne, and sat on the statue with flags and posters, the more invovled I felt. I chanted with the people around me. I suddendly felt the need to cry. I tried to look at everyone, obviously an impossible task. Everyone was here. Everyone was here, in this place, to show how relisient this country is, to show how much they care. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to thank people. I wanted to hug people. I wanted to hold someone’s hand and say “It’s going to be okay.”
There are families that are now living with the murder of their friends. Nothing is ever going to take away that pain. This march didn’t end sadness. But it has started to bring hope and strength back. No one will let you forget about happened at Charlie Hebdo, and this city will not let you forget that we are all Charlie.
I circled République and started to walk back towards Chatêlet. Slowly moving through the crowd I smiled at my neighbors as we bumped arms and legs and feet. I thought about Anne Frank. I thought that she is right. In the end of everything, we can still believe people are good at heart.
And then one word struck me. Solidarité. Solidarity. Muslims, Jewish people, Christians, non-religious people, right wing and left wing people, foreigners and French people marched together and I wanted to cry again. One of those happy-sad cries. Because you’re sad, but because you’re hopeful.
To all the victims, rest in power.