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To Paris, With Love: A Boston Perspective On Coming Back From Terror

A makeshift memorial for those killed or wounded in the Friday attacks in Paris, as seen at a vigil Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Boston, held in sympathy for the people of Paris. The memorial rests at the foot of a statue of French Revolutionary War military officer Marquis de Lafayette on the Boston Common. (Steven Senne/AP)
A makeshift memorial for those killed or wounded in the Friday attacks in Paris, as seen at a vigil Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015, in Boston, held in sympathy for the people of Paris. The memorial rests at the foot of a statue of French Revolutionary War military officer Marquis de Lafayette on the Boston Common. (Steven Senne/AP)
This article is more than 4 years old.

People who have lived in Boston — or New York City, Oklahoma City or Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics -- know. They know. And they feel it today. Emotions they hoped were boxed up and put away have come flooding back.

Bostonians understand what it’s like to watch the TV screen in disbelief, to desperately try to find a loved one. Whether directly touched or not, there is the fear and heartbreak, the anger and defiance that well up inside.

And that’s just the first day.

For Parisians, the weeks and years to come will bring other feelings and questions that will wash over both mind and body. There will be emptiness and numbness, gratitude and solidarity. How could someone do this? Should I move away? Is any place safe? Those with injuries, physical and psychological, will be reminded many a morning about the day that everything changed.

Bostonians understand what it’s like to watch the TV screen in disbelief, to desperately try to find a loved one.

The common experiences do not end there. In Paris, like Boston and other cities that have faced tragedy, regular people rose to the occasion. They opened their homes at a moment of great vulnerability. There were acts of heroism large and small. In Paris, like Boston, people have lined up to give blood and to leave flowers. Strangers who have never been to France reach out today to say, “I stand with you.”

But unfortunately, in Paris as with the Marathon bombing, there are others whose actions are less noble. Here in the U.S., that included comments from noted terrorism expert and erstwhile actor Rob Lowe, taking to Twitter to mock the French government even as there was blood in the streets.

And as has been the case with past terror attacks, angry men will feel emboldened to take to the streets and assault those who simply look “different,” that is to say, people who are just as innocent as this weekend’s victims.

Worse than the stupid and the bigoted are the craven, individuals hoping to exploit the moment to push their favorite policy proposals, their political agendas or their candidacies. We saw the same thing in Boston. I remember the disgust I felt, when I read an opinion piece by a loudmouth columnist from a major Boston paper taking the opportunity presented by calamity to rant against immigrants.

He and other assorted “analysts” were more than happy to shill their uninformed opinions and rile emotions before actual facts had emerged. It is breathtaking what people will do to sell books, bludgeon their political opponents or advance their personal standing — all on the backs of innocent victims and their families who grieve.

It will be a long and painful road back, but they still run something called the Boston Marathon here. And in Paris, the Eiffel Tower will light the night once again...

But you can’t let the bastards get you down.

We here, in our fair city, refused that path. So will the people of Paris. Even in the face of savagery and inhumanity, people will not give in to the dark or the manipulators who seek advantage. Compassion and solidarity will triumph.

It will be a long and painful road back, but they still run something called the Boston Marathon here. And in Paris, the Eiffel Tower will light the night once again, and people will remember the evening that strangers took them in off the streets and offered them shelter from evil.

Life will return. The human spirit will endure.

Vive la France.

A knitted French flag with a heart design in the center rests on the sidewalk next to candles outside the French Consulate in Boston, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (Steven Senne/AP)
A knitted French flag with a heart design in the center rests on the sidewalk next to candles outside the French Consulate in Boston, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015. (Steven Senne/AP)

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Jim Walsh Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Jim Walsh teaches at MIT, focusing on international security. He has traveled to both Iran and North Korea for talks with government officials.

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