Panic. Are you in Paris? Catherine, you need to answer me.
Having just woken up, I logged onto CNN and BBC to discover the news of the attacks. I immediately messaged my college and high school friends studying there, and I couldn’t move from my chair until I had heard back from them.
Until my friends messaged me back and said that they were okay, allowing me to calm down, I wasn’t able to fully comprehend the gravity of the situation. Innocent people—enjoying dinner, a concert with friends—became victims of unfathomable acts in a matter of minutes. Lives forever destroyed, families never the same, the world distraught.
In the weeks following the attacks, I knew fear like I had never known it before. More than fear—paranoia. Everywhere I went, I felt threatened. I couldn’t sleep. The day of a trip to Amsterdam, I stayed up until 4 a.m. debating whether or not I should still go. I ultimately decided I should. An hour layover in Milan led to a pseudo-panic attack, and I hid in the bathroom.
Looking back now, I know I overreacted, but even though other travelers surrounded me, having no one I knew personally meant I felt totally alone. Even once I arrived in Amsterdam and met my high school friends, I was constantly checking my news apps for any updates. Terrorism had achieved its objective: I had lost my trust in the world.
And now, hearing of the recent shooting in California, I am distraught. Heaving with intense sadness and utterly disillusioned with the capabilities of fellow human beings, I find myself crying while walking down the street.
Dramatic, yes, but with all of this destruction, I have been led to question humanity. Having always prided myself on seeing the inherent goodness in people, I have had weeks of internal struggle. How can someone be capable of committing these acts? I cannot fathom that one is proud to cause so much pain and true suffering.
Complete disillusionment has been my mindset ever since the Paris attacks. I struggle to find the words to even write about how sad I am for the world. This can’t possibly be the way to live—to feel unsafe in the world. When unbelievable evils such as these plague our societies, how, then, are we supposed to move on? How do we let these events affect us? These are questions that plague my mind when I stay up at night, and accompany each tear I shed at random moments throughout the day.
We embrace the relationships that are present in our lives. It’s so easy to step out of the present and dwell on the past, or become anxious for the future. Not truly existing in the present moment yields the very real potential for regrets in the future: wishing you had realized how happy you were, or how much you valued a certain relationship. This is a problem of our society, as we are trained to always have the future in mind—next semester’s courses, next summer’s internship that could potentially lead to a job, the idealized future partner who you’re just bound to meet.
But what about this semester’s classes? The people in your life now? Everything going on in the world right now has forced me to have a reality check. I’ll eventually take those desirable classes, and I’m sure I’ll find an internship somewhere but for now I need to concentrate on existing in the present day, the present moment.
I think of the stranger who ran after the man who had left his half-eaten bag of potato chips on the train. I think of Matteo, the barista at the café next to my school in the small city of Parma, Italy, who decided to strike up a “conversation” in elementary Italian of mostly laughs and smiles from the lack of understanding. I think of my selfless host mom, Antonia, who is the hardest worker I know and one of the most loving and dedicated mothers to her three children (five, with my roommate Kate and me included, as I feel like she’s accepted us as one of her own). I think of my own mom, my best friend, an individual with the biggest heart and the respectable capacity to see the good in people.
These are truly good people. Amid so much destruction, it’s easy to let the darkness overpower you. It’s easy to let the darkness win. But forcing ourselves to come out of the haze and let ourselves be present, we realize the quantity of good humans whose numbers overpower those on the opposite end of the spectrum. These are the people who give us hope that our world truly is good. It’s just a matter of rejecting the darkness as reality.
Featured Image by The Associated Press