When I think of Paris, I think of sitting at a kitchen table in an apartment tucked away in the corner of a neighborhood near the Arc de Triomphe. I’m slowly sipping a mug of sleepytime time as Andrea and her aunt converse in Romanian. I appreciate the language as if it were a painting through which I can only convey the artist’s purpose, without comprehending the entire story. Recognizing my lack of understanding, Andrea switches to English to explain their conversation. We continue to talk in English, and now it is her aunt who is left listening to a foreign conversation. She watches us as if the sounds coming from our mouths will rearrange into words familiar to her: Romanian and French. Andrea can speak Romanian but not French, while I can speak only French and English. I turn to Andrea’s aunt to ask her a question in French, bringing her back into the conversation while Andrea is left watching. Together, we have no common language, but we have somehow found a conversational balance around this table in a city known for its history, art and passion.

So continued one of my favorite evenings in Paris. My second visit to Paris showed me the true grandeur of the city. Yes, the Tour Eiffel and Cathedrale Notre Dame de Paris took my breath away when I first saw them. And I was thrilled to see la Jaconde (the Mona Lisa) in person and visit as many patisseries as possible. However, architecture and food cannot represent the entirety of Paris. The typical tourism destinations do not portray one of the most important parts of Paris: its people.

The city has inspired some of the most incredible writers, artists, scientists, and so many other professions for hundreds of years. It is not the air in Paris that inspires, but the Parisians themselves. The hardworking Parisians earn their place in the city by continuing to build a thriving scene of culture and life at every street corner—from the markets to the students to the merry-go-rounds that seem to appear on every corner. Tourism brands the French as uninviting and disinterested, but I would argue that the Parisians do not live in Paris simply welcome tourists to their city. Look at history to determine the true character of Paris and its inhabitants. The Parisians are proud people who fight for what they believe. It is the Parisians who ensure Paris remains true to itself and thus, Parisians truly make Paris, well, Paris.

During my first visit to Paris, it took a moment to become accustomed to seeing so many armed guards walking around the major tourism areas. This was not a sight I saw frequently in America. After a few days in Paris, I realized the importance of these guards and felt great appreciation for them. These men and women were put in place by the city and the government to ensure the safety of the Parisians and the city’s guests. I was thankful for their service throughout the duration of my trip.

I think that is why I felt so shocked as I read the news pouring out of the City of Lights yesterday. Paris has harbored a special place in my heart since high school, and I think that many people throughout the world feel similarly. After several visits in the past few years, I could never imagine the horrors experienced by Parisians (and the French people) in the past few days. Who could ever imagine this kind of terror? My heart aches for the people of Paris, the people of France. There are not words to describe such terrible acts, so I instead wanted to share my portrait of Paris. It is important to remember why we must continue to care about the well-being of all people throughout the world whether they live in Paris, Beirut, Japan or anywhere else under threat of disaster.

So I would like to finish this dedication to Paris with a request. Look at this wall. It can be found in the small courtyard nestled in the heart of Paris. It was slightly difficult to find, but it was worth the journey to see “I love you” written in hundreds of languages. Think about how many ways the world has to say “I love you” around the world and then commit to making more actions of love for all those you love and even those you don’t love. If we can commit more actions of love than hate, I believe we can drown out senseless horrors and show that we are made for more. We are made to love and in that, we have nothing to fear.

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