Words. I’m trying to find them. Everything is jumbled. Scrambled. I’m sad. Upset. Angry. Confused. I’m sitting in my office half a world away. Why do I think I’m going to walk to the Metro and see all the people standing at Republique? The people who feel the same way I feel. I’m not there though. I’m in the suburbs of Des Moines, Iowa, trying to understand why this shooting in Paris is affecting me so much. I wasn’t attacked. I don’t know anyone who was. But that was my home. It feels like someone is attacking my memories of it.
Canal Saint Martin. If you ask me to think about Paris, that’s the first place that pops in my head. Probably not the typical response, but for me, that was my home. I lived a block away. On gorgeous weekend days, it was impossible to find a place to sit. Everyone was gathered there to eat, drink, converse, and most importantly, people watch. It wasn’t just weekends for me though. I spent every day on the canal. That’s where I took stock every morning. No matter how late my night was. No matter how many cigarettes and drinks at Chez Prune or Comptoir General. Every morning the canal was my cleanse. Canal Saint Martin was where I ran.
Take a right at Chez Prune from my old street and soon after you turn, you’ll notice that instead of a canal in the middle of a split street, there’s a park. From here until shortly after the Bastille, the canal goes underground, giving way to park-style areas with gorgeous trees that flower in the spring and summer. Eventually, the underground canal curves to the south, heading towards the Bastille before flowing into the Seine. The road that follows it to the Bastille is Boulevard Richard Lenoir.
You’ve all probably seen that road today. It’s the road that was apparently used by extremists to escape after murdering innocent people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a left-wing satirical magazine easily found throughout the city, as a possible retaliation to the publishing of cartoons depicting Muhammad. I ran on that road every day. No matter what craziness had ensued, that road was my place of peace and reflection. Twice a week, I’d have to cut my run short. Not due to massive hangovers, but because one of the best outdoor markets in the city is located on that street. The best day was Sunday, even though it was the most crowded. It was all part of the experience. Couples, both young and old, some with families in tow, strolled the market in search of fresh fruits, veggies, or other goods. Most times, I’d walk through the crowd alone, the music flowing through my headphones coloring the experience. Sometimes, I’d go shopping with friends, getting fresh food for meals to be cooked later that afternoon. I don’t know how to fully comprehend how that could be the same street.
It feels selfish to even talk about how this is affecting me. I lived there for months. There are people who have called that area home for their entire lives. Families, friends, and co-workers have been taken away from people and I sit in a quiet office, staring at a frozen landscape, scribbling down thoughts on an old yellow legal pad. As I’m writing this, I’m looking at pictures and videos of the massive crowd standing in Republique, just a couple blocks from what used to be home. I feel like I need to be there. Not to stand in mourning of the Charlie Hebdo victims. Or to support freedom of speech. Or to stand up against any extremist who thinks killing over an idea or belief is just. I would gladly and proudly stand in that square for all of those reasons, but that’s not what the need is. I feel helpless. Confused. Alone. Maybe there’s some people there feeling the same way? And we could just stand there. Together.