I had not fully unpacked from Orlando, where I spent a week writing about victims of the June 12 Pulse nightclub shooting (and the fatal alligator attack that happened to occur while I was there), when the AJC sent me to Dallas, to write about the police officers killed on July 7 by sniper attack.
“How are you doing?” my caring boss asked when I got back this week.
“I’ll be fine,” I responded. “We’re going to Paris on Saturday, for vacation.”
Authorities say Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian living in France, drove a large truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day along the beachfront in Nice in the south of France, killing at least 84 people, many of them children.
“France was struck on the day of its national holiday, July 14, the symbol of liberty,” French President Francois Hollande said. Officials extended the state of emergency imposed after the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris that killed 130 victims and declared three days of national mourning to begin Saturday.
We’ll arrive just as the mourning begins.
“Are y’all still going to Paris?” my friend from church asked with some amount of alarm in her voice when she called just now.
Yes, we are still going.
We’ve been planning this vacation for months and are traveling with some dear friends who are celebrating their 25th anniversary. To be honest, when we started talking about the trip I had last year’s terror attacks in Paris on my mind and wondered if we’d be safe.
But I never would have worried about going to Orlando, the happiest place on earth before Omar Mateen gunned down people in a nightclub. His victims included a talented young performer who once gave a memorable performance in Atlanta.
And I would not have worried about going to my adopted home state of Texas, where we’re planning our fourth vacation in less than a year next month. There’s an Atlanta connection with that tragedy, too: the organizer of the protest march after which the shooting occurred is an Emory graduate who grew up in Clayton County.
“Terrorism is a threat that weighs heavily upon France and will continue to weigh for a long time,” French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said after Hollande called an emergency government meeting Friday. “We are facing a war that terrorism has brought to us. The goal of terrorists is to instill fear and panic. And France is a great country, and a great democracy, that will not allow itself to be destabilized.”
Je suis d’accord. This act of hate and destruction isn’t changing our plans. Certainly we will be vigilant but we will not bow at terror’s knee.
France and America share a love of freedom and resilience and our countries stand together in times of strife. Our Statue of Liberty was their gift to us. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” reads the plaque on its base. The French motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” should be on our minds today, too.
In a June 2013 Personal Journey feature, AJC Editor Kevin Riley shared the story of Eddie Sessions, among the thousands of young American servicemen sent to France during World War II. Eddie, who has since died, served with the 95th Infantry Division — “The Iron Men of Metz.
Last year, Riley wrote about his trip with Eddie’s widow, Shirley Sessions, to attend the 70th anniversary commemorations of the Battle of Metz. “Bands seemed to be constantly playing the ‘Star Spangled Banner’ in honor of les libérateurs — a term they use over and over for American World War II veterans,” he wrote. “The liberators.”
Today I feel like hearing La Marseillaise over and over.
My usual pre-vacation activities consist of checking in with the house sitter who stays at our place when we travel, making sure the alarm company knows someone else will be coming and going and ensuring our ungrateful cats have all the bagged and canned food they could possibly need.
Today I’m spending some time in prayer. There’s nothing heroic about taking a vacation, but it will be an honor to spend some time mourning the victims on French soil.
My caring boss just came by my desk just now to extract a promise I won’t do any work next week. I said that we will be on vacation and we’ll have fun. I imagine editors will keep an eye on my Twitter feed, and may include photos or updates I post in next week’s coverage, but I won’t be working. I’ll be remembering the victims and enjoying the freedoms and traditions their murderer sought to attack. I’ll be savoring time with people I love with the wonderful people of a great nation.
I’ll be living.