Paris was my first true love.
This magical, beautiful City of Light stole my young, impressionable heart when I was but a girl of fifteen, growing up in small-town Ohio, kissing boys and running through cornfields. I took a high school trip to France with my French teacher and a few of my closest girlfriends, and it was love at first sight.
I have dedicated my entire career to Paris, to France, and to mastering and teaching the elegant French language. I’ve lived and studied in Paris and Lyon; I became a French professor and have taught French for close to ten years; and I’ve written five novels, a short story, and a memoir which are all based in Paris. I travel back every year to visit the beautiful friends I have made in Paris and to breathe in the life that flows through its streets—vibrant and rich and never-ending.
It is not an exaggeration to say that Paris is in my heart every single moment of every day. And as my readers have shown me, the extraordinary city of Paris is in their hearts as well.
When I first heard the devastating news of the attacks that have killed and injured so many innocent people in our beloved city, many of my friends and family who live in the US texted me immediately and said that they were so happy I’m not in Paris right now.
But my first instinct was to get on the next flight and go to Paris. I am in the process of planning my move to Paris next year, and if anything, I’m ready to move the date up. I want to be there, spreading love and drowning fear. I want to hug my amazing Parisian friends, look them in the eyes, and tell them how thankful I am that they are safe. I want to help in any way that I can. I want to be in Paris.
Through all of my travels to Paris and to other cities in France, I have been blessed to build a family of the warmest, kindest, most caring and loving friends I could ever imagine. My Parisian friends are French, Brazilian, Italian, Australian, American, and British. They are artistic, intelligent, creative, and inspiring. They are open and honest, and they have shared their lives and their homes with me on more occasions than I can count.
I consider them my family, and Paris is our home. I want to be there with them right now, more than anything.
When the news of the attacks broke in the US, I immediately reached out to all of my France-based friends to be sure they were okay. Facebook was an absolute blessing in this regard. I was able to connect with each of my friends quickly and easily, and there was only one friend we couldn’t get in touch with. It turned out that she had left Paris the day before, and she was simply sleeping with her phone off. We heard from her as soon as she woke up Saturday morning, and she is safe.
But in those few hours when we didn’t have news of her whereabouts, I realized that the idea of even one of my dear friends being hurt or killed in this senseless massacre was unimaginable. The loss of one beautiful friend or loved one is enough to alter our entire world forever. The impact each of our loved ones makes on our lives is immeasurable. And so is the love we have for each other.
This was apparent as people all over the world connected last night to be sure that their loved ones were safe. And this is apparent in the immense sadness we all feel knowing that so many innocent, beautiful lives have been taken.
This is a tragedy, and we must face it with bravery. We must face it with unwavering love.
Love is stronger than any force in this Universe, and love will always—always—win. Fear doesn’t stand a chance in the face of love.
So, today, no matter where you are, please tell your friends and family and loved ones how much you love them. Hug them. Kiss them. Let go of past wrongs, and instead choose to embrace love. Send as much of that love as you can to Paris, to France, and especially to the victims and their families.
And don’t be afraid to get on a plane to Paris. Book the flight. Walk those lively streets, and tell fear it has no place in a city that is so rich and full of life. Tell fear is has no place in your minds, your hearts, your souls.
In a time like this, we must only make room for love.
Our beloved Paris truly is the City of Love, and nothing will ever change that.
*This piece has also been published on The Huffington Post.