While I usually stick with the lighter side of things, Friday night’s Paris attacks have hit a bit close to home in many ways.
With just a two hour train ride linking London and the French capital, I received a few messages directly and my mom fielded phone calls from family and friends to make sure I hadn’t gone for the weekend.
I can’t begin to imagine the fear of the families who had relatives and friends actually in the city that night.
In the aftermath of the attacks, London has also raised the security alert to ‘severe’ (the highest it can be for an extended period of time) and I can only think of the thousands of study abroad students, interns, expat, and tourists who are planning to spend the next few weeks or months or years in western Europe.
What are they thinking? What are they feeling? Are they reading articles like this one and vowing to stay at home?
It’s easy to say, “don’t be afraid,” but it’s much harder to practice.
Yes, incidents similar to the Paris attacks happen daily in the Middle East and are nothing new in that sense, but they were in a place we assume we are safe.
The people going to work on September 11th or riding the tube on the day of the London bombings assumed they were safe.
The news is filled daily with foiled terrorist plots and suspects and unrest in the Middle East and doomsday predictions of how close the danger is getting.
In spite of all of this, I think the most important thing we can do is to continue traveling.
Don’t cancel next weekend’s flight to Barcelona.
Don’t change your vacation plans from London to New York because you’d prefer to stay ‘closer to home.’
Don’t second guess your exchange program in Paris, don’t drop out of your internship with a business in Belgium.
Don’t put away your suitcase and lock your door and stay home. Just travel.
Sure, travel to show the terrorists they “haven’t won,” but also travel because the only way to combat ignorance is education.
Travel to the next town over or a city thousands of miles away. Travel to learn about other cultures, and also to share yours.
Travel to make friends with people across the globe who have entirely different viewpoints.
Travel longer and further and cast your net wider so you don’t find yourself stuck with a limited worldview and fears that stem from a lack of understanding.
Travel because there’s no way of knowing how much you really don’t know, until you go.
Travel to start to put ‘faces’ to religions and ideologies and cultures.
Travel to extend an olive branch, to help spread the idea that people are not their governments, and they are not their circumstances.
Travel to be more compassionate, to say ‘yes’ to acceptance and tolerance and to be an ambassador for your country.
Travel to meet a Muslim who takes you in and feeds you dinner after your hostel locks you out.
Travel to meet a Christian who gives you their number in case you have any problems.
Travel to meet an atheist who devotes all of their day to showing you around the city they know and love.
Travel to meet a Buddhist, a Deist, a Hindu.
Travel to meet an Egyptian who makes you laugh, a German who dries your tears, a Russian who surprises you with your favorite meal.
Travel to stop judging people by their religion and ethnic backgrounds and gender identities altogether and accepting them for who they are: people just like you, trying to get by.
There are horrible people in this world and current regions definitely unsafe to visit, but the world itself is not a scary place.
Book your flights, stick with your plans, learn everything you can, and prove to yourself and those around you that the good of humanity will always prevail.