Tang: In Paris, kindness prevails

Tina Tang, Columnist

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I woke up to a gloomy day on Nov. 14 after a night of restless sleep. The streets of Paris were quiet, but not empty. The restaurants were sparsely seated, but not empty. After the tragedy that had struck the heart of France the night before, one thing felt clearly absent from the minds of Parisians that Saturday morning: fear. Paris was in mourning, but its citizens were not scared.

Despite the state of emergency put in place by the French government, people still gathered at the Place de la Republique near the Bataclan concert hall to pay tribute to the victims. Flowers and candles left in the square created an impromptu memorial for those who lost their lives Friday night. Hospitals and mobile blood drives were crowded with people hoping to donate blood.

Sunday morning saw sunshine and Parisian families roaming the streets as the city slowly returned to normal. As one of the cultural capitals of the world, the French people refuse to let fear and anxiety envelope this beautiful city. Despite a rightward shift in policy by the French government, and instead of giving into anger and hatred, the people of Paris showed an overwhelming outpouring of love and kindness. In an interview by Le Petit Journal, a father revealed to his son that flowers are more powerful than guns and that they would not be moving just because of the attacks. This sentiment seems to echo throughout the city as people quickly attempted to resume their lives. Even on Friday night, just hours after the first gunshot rang out, Parisians opened their doors to strangers that were stranded in the city, providing shelter when transportation lines were jammed to a near complete halt. In the aftermath of the attacks, kindness seemed to be the irrepressible response to hate.

Throughout the world and all around social media, people have shown their support and standing in solidarity with the people of France. I deeply appreciated all the kind and worried messages I received from all over the world. Yet at the same time, politicians and political commentators from across the globe are making insensitive and inappropriate comments to advance their own agendas or comparing tragedies to diminish the importance of causes they deem unworthy. But comparing pain will only deepen the suffering of the people experiencing it.

As classes resume this week, Northwestern study abroad program directors checked in with students to make sure everybody is recovering both physically and mentally from the events on Friday. “Paris is the most beautiful city in the world,” one of my professors said. “When you look back on your semester in France in six months time, or in a year’s time, please don’t let the attack on Friday define your experiences here.”

Those chaotic few hours on Friday night may not define my entire experience, but the days that followed will definitely shape my opinion of the French people. I no longer see the snobby and condescending Frenchmen I encountered when I first arrived, but rather the kind and welcoming Parisians that populate this town. If I wasn’t already enchanted by the beautiful architecture, the rich culture and the charming landscape of this dynamic city, the courage and spirit of Paris have definitely won me over.

As France experiences the most violent attack on French soil since the Second World War, I am thankful to the French people for showing me their vulnerability, but even more the beauty of their strength and resilience.

Tina Tang is a Weinberg junior. She can be reached at tinatang2017@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com.

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.