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On the Year Everything Changed.

Posted on Wednesday, January 6, 2016

On this day, one year ago, the world was about to change. Or, maybe more fairly, my world was about to change. Last January 6th, Parisians came home from work or school - like I just did - and made dinner, or went out to dinner, or ordered sushi (why is takeout always sushi here!?). They went to the movies, perhaps, or gathered to celebrate the Epiphany with a galette des rois, and afterwards they fell asleep alone or together, happy or sad, but mostly sure that the next day would be the same as the one they'd just ended.
Last January 7th, though, was not the same. It was the day that Paris would be shaken to its core, the day the world would collectively gasp. Just before midday, the world shifted as armed gunmen murdered a policeman on the sidewalk, then stormed the offices of Charlie Hebdo in the name of a god that, they claimed, wanted blood. Eleven artists dead along with the policeman, on a quiet street in a trendy neighborhood in the city we thought was the most romantic in the world.
I wasn't here last January 6th or 7th, but I'll never forget those days. Even from halfway across the world, I watched dumbfounded as the color drained from Parisian streets. The muted wintertime colors became grayscale, the lights of la ville lumière dimmed. I returned home to a different city, a city shaken by a hatred it hadn't encountered since the last world war - if even then. It was a city that didn't know how to recover.
But recover, it did. Millions marched in the street, proclaiming liberté égalité fraternité, chanting je suis charlie, singing the Marseillaise, laughing and hugging and determined in their strength. Charlie Hebdo had never been more popular, as subscriptions skyrocketed. Its now-famous cover from the issue following the attacks was the season's must-have item, Parisians (including myself) queuing up day after day only to be told it was sold out. The next edition of Charlie Hebdo came out, then the next, then the next. Slowly, the city exhaled. When spring came, our fear had thawed. Parisians took to their parks, to their streets, to their terrasses. We didn't forget, but we let ourselves move on. We were all still Charlie, but we were also ourselves. Rosé season came and went, the long summer evenings melted into one another, until the sun set earlier and earlier, and autumn came suddenly. Still, it stayed mild, and we clung to our streets and to our last chance to sit en terrasse in the streets we loved. Until.
Until November 13th, when terror came back to Paris, so close to where it had struck before. The horrors of last January 7th were multiplied, expanded, deepened. There was more blood, more victims, more tears, less explanation. If the city had been shaken before, it seemed to collapse now. We thought in January that we'd seen the worst of it, and had congratulated ourselves for what a wonderful recovery we'd made, and it came back a hundred times stronger.
After last January, I wasn't scared falling asleep at night or walking in the street or enjoying the weekend or... living. After November, I was paralyzed with fear. We couldn't have guessed after January that less than a year later our mourning would be more profound, more personal, more widespread than before - but it was all those things, and more. The city felt drowned in grief.
The year 2015 was not an easy one in Paris. It was the year that saw, by my count, 142 innocent people murdered in its streets in the name of religion. It was the year we realized, between January and November, that our prayers had been futile, that the threat had not disappeared, that we were not safe. 2015 was the year that my mother urged me, "Just come home any time if you don't feel safe, okay?" in a quiet, rushed voice, betraying her worry. It was the year we submitted to pat-downs and bag checks, opening our coats to prove we weren't wearing suicide vests at the door to the supermarket. 2015 was the year that saw Paris brought to her knees, her light so close to being snuffed out that it shocked the world.
And yet, amid the darkness, 2015 was many other things. For me, it was a year that began with teary goodbyes, snotty hugs and kisses and a feeling of deep uncertainty about my future, later replaced with an exciting sureness. It was the year I turned 25, a quarter of a century, and celebrated with champagne and dancing and flowers and Gatsby-style dresses, and felt so happy I thought I might burst. It was the year I spent a weekend with my dad in Italy, savoring the pure joy of a perfectly-made five euro pizza in a tiny corner joint in Florence, taking in the view of the valleyed city from a neighboring hilltop, and appreciating my relationship with my dad more than ever. It was the year I experienced Dubai in all its bizarre glitz and glam, and the year I finally visited Istanbul, falling even more head-over-heels than I knew I would. It was the year I got to spend time getting to know my toddler cousin Meron, the year I welcomed her jumping on my bed despite my wine-induced headaches, the year I gave her piggy-backs and kisses and listened to Let It Go over and over and over again.
This was the year my parents and I pulled off a huge surprise, when I flew home for four days to surprise my little sister at her college graduation. A quick trip but so filled with happiness and laughter (besides the part where we had to move Megan out of her college dorm...) that I'm smiling thinking about it now. It was the year I was unceremoniously kicked out of the apartment I'd grown to love so much - which, happily, led to my little slice of heaven that feels, for the first time, fully my own. It was the year my family came to France for holidays, and we spent long days relaxing by the pool and drinking rosé and playing pétanque and traipsing around châteaux with the promise of wine tastings at the end. It was the year I started working at Euro Disney, a job I never thought I'd want but which is more than I ever could have asked for. It's the year I spent a whole month at home, getting to know New York more than ever before and living on my sister's couch, walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and marveling at how different New York is from Paris, loving each difference more than the last.  It was the year that my sister called me in Paris from the middle of the night in Brooklyn to tell me that she was getting married, and from the happiness in her voice I knew she could not have chosen a better man. This was the year that my family celebrated Christmas in Dublin for the first time since we were small, and the year that my travel-suprise-extraordinaire mother was travel-surprised by the sister and niece she'd been longing to see. It was the year that Place de la République became a symbol of strength, and French flags appeared all over the city.
This was the year that so many good things happened, despite the bad. In some of the darkest days after the attacks, when fear was around every corner and we were surrounded by questions of Who and How and, most frequently, Why, it is thinking of these moments that kept me afloat. In November, a cartoonist at Charlie Hebdo posted a drawing on his Instagram that resonated with me enormously: 
Despite all the horror between this day last year, and today, we've kept playing music, kissing, living, drinking champagne, feeling joy. When Paris wakes up tomorrow, our hearts will be heavy thinking of last January 7th. We'll pause throughout our day, remembering one year ago, the day everything changed. We'll remember the wasted lives, the bloodshed, the terror, the tears, the lost innocence. But let's also remember the good. I'll be remembering the love I felt this year, the people I kissed and the jokes I shared and the laughter that threatened to split my sides. I'll be remembering that this year, like every year, the love was stronger than the hate. I don't know what 2016 will be like. Maybe it will be the year I finally run that marathon I keep thinking about, or the year I move back to the States, or the year I decide to stay in France. Or maybe not.

No matter what 2016 brings, as long as we have music and kisses and life, champagne and joy, I think it will be alright. Happy happy new year. Here's to living. xx

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