Craning my neck and shielding my eyes from the sun, I admired the massive, intimidating, and beautiful structure that towered in front of me. As I waited I listened to the medley of voices around me, buzzing with anticipation in languages I could hardly recognize. I then made the 668-step climb into its heart, carrying my sore feet and intense fear of heights with me. Standing proudly on the platform of the Eiffel Tower, I took in the sky-high panorama of Paris. Three planes soared past, spreading red, white, and blue powder in the clouds in celebration of Bastille Day 2016.
Last summer I traveled with the Washington Ambassadors of Music on a sixteen-day adventure across seven European countries – England, France, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy, and Germany. The trip was enlightening, unforgettable, and too much for my curious mind to comprehend. One event in particular, though, profoundly impacted how I see the world.
While Bastille Day was a day of adventure for me, July 14th 2016 is known to so many others as the date of the horrific tragedy in Nice, France.
I woke up the next day to the breaking news playing in my Paris hotel room. My roommates and I silently watched the shaky eyewitness footage of crowds splitting in front of the large truck that took the lives of 86 people and injured 434. We couldn’t understand the newscaster’s comments, but the expressions on the faces of the victims and their families were painfully comprehensible.
I snapped back to my surroundings and turned to my roommates, whose eyes remained glued to the television screen. I gathered my thoughts. Suddenly the events I had heard about on TV felt not only real, but nearby. I felt embarrassed. Growing up in a very safe and comfortable community, I had unintentionally built a separation in my mind, between my “world” and the reality. I had numbed myself to the suffering of others.
Throughout the day I saw significantly more police, security officers and weaponry than before. Nonetheless, it was another day of adventure and exploration, and my tourist alter-ego was up to its ears in scrapbook-worthy photos. As the sun began to set, we boarded our large charter bus and headed back to our hotel.
I was mid-conversation with a friend seated beside me, when something caught my attention through the large glass windows of the bus. First I saw a crowd, then news cameras, and then a large statue much like many others I’d seen scattered throughout the city. This one, however, was decorated not only with marble but with flags, names, and various expressions in colorful spray paint. As the bus continued to move, the immense size of the crowd came into view, and I started to grasp what I was seeing. The crowd had gathered to mourn the tragedy that occurred in Nice the night before, grieving loved ones and offering support as a community to the residents of Nice.
Although I only saw this for a fleeting moment through my bus window, it’s the most significant memory I have from my entire trip. The mental barrier I had unintentionally built between myself and those affected was torn down the moment I saw that crowd. News headlines aren’t just urban myths to me anymore- they’re real stories of people like me. This trip taught me a lot more than multilingual greetings. I learned how similar we really are, and that it truly is a small world. I learned how easy it is to be blind to the suffering of others, especially when they’re an ocean away.
Dear Reader: This page may contain affiliate links which may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Our independent journalism is not influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative unless it is clearly marked as sponsored content. As travel products change, please be sure to reconfirm all details and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.