Terrorist attack kills scores in Nice, France, Hollande says.
That’s the notification that popped up on my phone after midnight on July 15 as I lay in my bed, in Grenoble, just 300 kilometers away.
A shooter opened fire and killed more than 80 people while driving his van into a crowd. The victims — who were watching the Bastille Day fireworks — were celebrating the anniversary of the start of the French Revolution. They were celebrating their country and their patriotism. They were laughing, rejoicing and living life before it was so unfairly taken away from them, far too soon.
After reading the breaking news story, I lay in bed, no longer tired despite the eventful day I’d had. I had been enjoying the day, watching the fireworks and engaging to the fullest in the national holiday. Not once did I ponder what I’d do if someone opened fire in the crowds I was in. My mind was racing; where would I have run? Would I have hidden or tried to escape? Would I have been able to help others around me, had they been hurt?
For the first time I was in France, I felt truly afraid. People had mentioned to me before I left that the country wasn’t very safe, and they asked me if I was scared to go there. “Are your parents cool with you going?” and “Aren’t you a little concerned about your safety?” were questions I got more often than “Are you excited to go?” France has been the target of numerous killings in the name of the Islamic State over the last year; however, none have occurred in Grenoble. When people asked me about it, I usually shrugged the idea off, noting that I was equally likely, if not more, to be shot in the United States. But now that it had happened somewhat close to me and I was so far away from my home and family, I felt scared for the world. I felt sad that these senseless murders and killings were continuing to happen, becoming more of a norm than a shock. I felt immense grief for the families who had lost parents, children and friends on a day of celebration and unity. And lastly, I felt both guilt and relief simultaneously, for being safe in my warm bed while others around me suffered and mourned.
As I lay awake thinking the day over, I thought of all the fear this would instill in people. Every day, we cancel trips, avoid crowds, watch over our shoulders and generate distrust for others out of fear they might hurt us. We anxiously look around airports and busy train stations wondering if this is the day someone will blow it all up. Though it might not be a constant and daily train of thought, at some point each of us is faced with the reality that there are people in this world who want to hurt us and terrorize us.
I thought back to the first day of the program in Grenoble: The program hosted an orientation for us to acclimate to the city. One of the biggest topics was how we would address an attack in the city, where we would go, to whom we should reach out. It suddenly seemed very real.
In the United States, I feel a sense of comfort and detachment, as if these sad realities are far away from home and the things that I hear about on the news from time to time. But being in France, in a place where extremist attacks are becoming too often an occurrence, the gravity of the situation became so much more real.
Despite the sudden feeling of uneasiness, we were told to remain calm. The program would go on and none of us would be going home. We were told that Nice was far from Grenoble and to reassure parents and friends that we were not hurt.
After the tragedy in Nice, the city felt a lot more on edge. My host mom sat me down the following week and warned me that even in the small town of Grenoble, there were groups of people to look out for. In class, we talked about how the government was addressing these issues and how the French people reacted to these types of attacks. Overall, there was a strong sense of fear of the unknown, fear of people that look or act differently from ourselves.
When I got back to the United States, the Nice attacks were often top of the list in conversation topics about my trip. “How did that affect you? Were you scared? Did you want to come home?” I won’t deny that being so close to something so horrific scared the crap out of me and definitely made me much warier of my surroundings. But never did I want to come home because of it.
I felt like this was an opportunity to experience the world outside of my perceived safe zone in the States. I feel that too often we isolate ourselves from the outside world and reject anything different from our own agendas. We are more concerned about our own safety than embracing life to the fullest and appreciating other ways of life before becoming immediately suspicious.
For the rest of my time in Grenoble, I wanted to have the best time of my life and experience the things I came to experience. After all, I only had six weeks to get to know a city, a culture and a language. Even if I was scared, the chances of anything happening to me or my peers were improbable. I was vigilant and aware of my surroundings, but I didn’t let the senseless terror stop me from experiencing my life.