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Paris And Fear

For once, I planned ahead and wrote this week’s article in advance. And then, shit happened. And it didn’t make sense to publish something that referenced Paris without acknowledging the attacks that took place in this city a week ago. So I’ll let you read that on another day, but not today.

Today, the skies are sobbing. It’s the hardest rain I’ve yet witnessed in this city, after nearly three months of gratifyingly unseasonably-warm and sunny weather. And I’m just woo-woo enough to find significance in the clouds unleashing their tears to mark a first anniversary, of sorts, for last week’s events.

My hope is that all this water will wash away much of the public’s appetite for fear that seems to have been stirred in the aftermath of November 13th.

Because fear is a hustling, scavenging son-of-a-bitch. And it’s favorite costume is rage.

The world needs far less of both.

But it often can take a lot of effort to step outside the vortex of fear. There are a ton of resources currently at our fingertips to feed it.

We soak up the anxiety-inducing headlines. We chase down the tear-jerking, cinema-worthy stories. We build barriers against the nuanced complexities of abstracted evils.

There is some odd DNA wiring in our nature that compels us to stop and linger at drama. And empathy is a beautiful foundation for community and connection. But empathy does not require fear.

Please, never forget, fear impoverishes the buyer. It is incredibly profitable to the seller. And it lies to seal the deal.

So why the hell would anyone go shopping for fear?

After a car bomb blew up in front of my apartment building, waking me up to balcony-scorching flames and shattered glass, I was shocked. It was 1991, the first Gulf War was in full swing, and I happened to be living in Athens, Greece, where the local terrorist network wanted to be part of the action.

Once the shock wore off, the fire was put out, and my roommates and I discovered that everyone was unharmed, we went back to sleep.

What else were we to do?

Fear didn’t serve a purpose. And it didn’t have a foothold. Yet.

It was only once we turned on the Headline News, and started becoming “educated” in all the reasons we now should be anxious about our safety, that the fear started nibbling.

And the more we searched for information, and waited with bated breath for the next revision to the constant loop of the (new, at the time) 24-hour news cycle, the more glutenous our fear became.

But the world we lived in — the streets of Athens — hadn’t really changed. The walk up the hill was still as long. The view of the Acropolis was still as stunning. The frappe at the local cafe and the toast at the neighborhood sandwich shop were still as delicious, and the folks taking our orders and standing behind the counters hadn’t changed either.

The only way to starve the fear was to lock the proverbial refrigerator. So we turned off CNN and started focusing on the details of life again.

This past week, I’ve been thinking a lot about that experience and the parallels with current events.

I’ve listened to people’s exclamations of surprise when I tell them the streets of Paris look the same as they did a week ago and that, for the most part, it’s life as usual. The Marais is again full of vivacious groups crowding the terraces of cafes and brasseries. The boulangeries are churning out just as many delectable baguettes. The cobblestones and corniced buildings continue to stand breath-taking witness to life — joy and loss, alike — as they have through the tumultuousness of history.

I’ve watched the confusion on my neighbors’ faces when I’ve enquired if they’re now nervous about being in Paris. They simply don’t understand this sensationalist question. The Resistance of World War II is not just a footnote in history books here. Nor is the creative expression of that resistance. A bottle of wine is opened, a deep sadness is felt and mingles with the grapes’ tannins, and life goes on.

I’ve observed the criminally callous decisions elsewhere to punish truly traumatized people because of a single passport and adopted anxiety. There is no humane reason to justify 20 US states blocking the entry of desperate, hardworking people of this era, particularly when the decision-makers’ ancestors were once in the same boat.

Fear needs to be fed.

I’m not dismissing the importance of mourning, the reality of grief or the psychological effects of experienced trauma. It’s the ancillary exposure that is sticky.

  • We are told over and over again that this is the new world order so, when sirens echo through the streets now, there is a fleeting thought — what if, again?
  • More metro stations are playing the recording warning about watching for unattended bags and, with each transmission, we are thrown from our thoughts about our errands or most recent kiss and reminded, instead, of life-threatening events — recent and past.
  • The lights of the Eiffel Tower are no longer twinkling (until November 25); two sides are illuminated with the blue, white and red of the French flag. We no longer witness a joyous and stalwart symbol of this City of Lights. I watch as commuters on the bus suddenly become grim, their faces shutting down, when they catch site of the memorial as we ride along the Seine.

This is not a time of fear, unless we choose to feed the fear.

We can make it a time of creative expression, instead. A time to flourish, and love, and be in awe of life.

It’s a choice.

And it is dependent upon our focus. So where will you put your focus?

Turn off the TV. Breathe deeply. And go explore your world!

with pleasure,

Emily Lewis



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