Photo by Shannon Hansen
In life, there are times when God becomes visible – when his guiding hand that is leading us along the bends and forks in the road becomes tangible.
Last weekend in Paris was a time that I realized just how mighty God is and how boundless his love and protection flows.
For years, I’ve been able to trace the path of my life, understanding how every experience has gotten me to where I am today. Big or small, the decisions I’ve made and the trials I’ve overcome, have propelled me forward and shaped my perceptions of the world around me.
Paris, France was the target of a terrorist attack on the evening of Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. It was a night that I am sure the world will remember forever; a night that families who lost their loved ones to a senseless act of violence will never forget. My heart breaks for those now in mourning, as well as for those who were taken from this earth too soon. To be in Paris this past weekend while the world shook with another act of terror reminded me just how precious life is.
It was 9:15 p.m. when my friends and I walked under the Eiffel Tower to the street in search of taxis that would take us back to our hotel. We traveled to France from Switzerland early Friday morning for a girls’ weekend, excited to celebrate a birthday and explore a city we’d been looking forward to visiting for months. That day, we had visited The Louvre, Notre Dame, and Arc de Triomphe – without the slightest idea that what seemed to be a perfect day would end in tragedy.
Our decision to taxi rather than take the metro proved to be a blessing, as the metro would have dropped us off right in front of the café where the shootings were taking place. We had taken the metro earlier that night, after purchasing an all-day pass and had initially planned to ride it back to our hotel once we had finished our evening out.
Taking taxis was one of the many decisions that directed our path along the line of safety that God had been weaving for us since the planning of our trip began. This was also the first weekend we had opted to stay in a hotel rather than the usual hostel. The hotel provided us with the safety, comfort and privacy that our previous experiences in hostels had always lacked.
The terrorist attacks began at 9:20 p.m. in seven different locations across Paris, including a café, a bar, a sports stadium and a concert hall, where the majority of people were taken hostage and killed while watching a band from California play onstage. We didn’t find out until we were safely in bed at our hotel that terror was ravaging the 10th and 11th arrondisments of the city, merely a mile away from where we were staying.
The innocent lives lost that night didn’t deserve to leave this world how they did. The senseless act of violence and the fear that my friends and I felt as we huddled together in one of our five hotel rooms is something we will never forget. While watching the news and responding to frantic calls and texts from our family and friends asking if we were okay, we couldn’t keep the thoughts of how lucky we truly were to be safe and alive out of our minds.
Up until this weekend, such violence had never felt so real to me. I’ve always felt worlds away from danger, saying quick prayers for those afflicted when tragedy like this strikes, but never really understanding the depth of it. It was the first time in my twenty years that I was genuinely afraid for my life — scared to close my eyes and go to sleep, to do something as simple as walk outside my room into the hotel hallway, and to even turn out the lights when I went to bed.
This weekend in Paris taught me just how precious life really is. It gave me a greater appreciation for those I love, a deeper capacity for empathy, and a heightened awareness of how much evil there is in this world. But more than that, it’s shown me there is still good in the world, no matter how much evil is trying to fight against it. The peace and love of the French and the outpouring of love and support from all around the world in this time of turmoil gives me such hope and faith.
Now as I sit in my cozy little room in Maison du Lac, safely tucked into the streets above Lac Leman, I can’t help but feel God’s presence so sincerely in my heart and mind. Surrounded by such loving souls all on the same road, yet experiencing such different journeys, I find myself grateful and happy to call such a place home.
My prayers go out ceaselessly to all those who were directly affected – to those families who will have one less loved one at the dinner table for the holidays, to the people who were lucky enough to make it out alive but have the scars of images of those who weren’t as lucky imprinted in their hearts and minds, to those who aren’t with us anymore but who we know are watching over the people they love from above, hoping they know how much they loved them in their last moments.