By Amy Sams
Special to HAKOL
Opportunity knocked at the end of October. A request came to my husband Rick, to be in Paris in just nine days to meet with a customer. Travelling on such short notice is something that has become routine as a requirement of his computer consulting job, but his travel is usually domestic and to exciting locations like Milwaukee. So when I heard he was going to Paris, I paid a little more attention. I had been to Paris in 2000 with my parents and sisters, and had no problem convincing myself it was time to go back. I remembered the beautiful gardens, the decadent food, the museums and the excitement of the city. Yes, it was definitely time to return to Paris, this time with my husband. Our 16 and 19-year-old daughters also thought it was a great opportunity for all involved. Happily we have local family and friends who supported the idea too.
This wasn’t the first time opportunity knocked for our family. Rick and I had spent nine months living in Germany when our daughters were ages 2 and 5. We lived near Heidelberg and immersed ourselves in the European way of living. Although short, our time living abroad was an amazing and educational experience for our family. We moved back to Allentown when the new school year approached so Natalie could start kindergarten at the Jewish Day School. Rick and I planned to return to Europe for some vacation and travel time once Natalie was settled at the JDS and both girls were in the care of my parents who live in Allentown.
Then we experienced September 11, 2001. Everything changed. Terrorism became part of my vocabulary. The realization that life can change in a moment set in, and we felt a need to be together as a family.
Rick returned to the United States and we changed our status of temporarily living in the Lehigh Valley and became residents. Fast forward 14 years to November 2015. There was that opportunity to return to the sights, sounds, tastes and excitement of Paris. Despite being a planner and having difficulty even finding my passport, we managed to arrive in Paris on Nov. 7.
We explored and enjoyed the cafes, the museums, the Metro, Google Maps, the history, walking, more walking and people watching. So much about Paris felt new –seeing it through a fresh and appreciative pair of eyes. So much of Paris seemed familiar. Rick and I decided to take a river cruise on the Seine on our last night together in Paris. We enjoyed every chilly moment of seeing the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Friday night revelers, and the multiple bridges from our open top boat on the Seine River. Our last evening was coming to an end. We began our night time walk to the Metro Station to catch our last ride back to the hotel. At that moment, everything changed ... again.
We heard sirens. Very loud sirens. Then we saw the police cars with flashing lights, one after another. There had to be at least 12 cars speeding by, right on the road in front of us as we stood on the sidewalk ready to cross over. We knew something was terribly wrong. The sirens. The lights. The number of police cars. This wasn’t an ordinary incident in the city.
We didn’t know why, but stepped up our pace sensing we needed to get back to the hotel quickly. Everyone around us seemed to sense the same urgency. Nothing other than the police cars looked or sounded out of place. There were no police officers around us or warnings on our phones. We continued toward the Metro. There was an unusual sense of anxiety amongst the crowded subway. Then I saw an alert on my phone from WFMZ in Allentown. There was a shooting in front of a Paris restaurant. Rick and I looked at each other in disbelief. We sensed something bigger had occurred. The sound of the never-ending sirens was still in our ears. At this point everyone was looking at their phones. Then the national news reported that there was a bomb explosion at the soccer stadium. We saw that stadium on our ride from the airport.
We started exchanging what we knew with a young man standing near us. He asked us what was happening when he heard us speaking English. He told us that he was a freshman at West Point, and I thought of our girls at home. I thought of the young girl I met earlier in the day from Australia traveling on her own enjoying a gap year between high school and college. She asked me for help with the Metro ticket machine .
The shooting, the bombing, whatever was happening was not far away. We were frightened. We didn’t know what was happening, because it was happening in real time nearby. This was different. This was not a news report of something far away. We began to see more breaking news about a hostage situation at a concert hall. After a short walk from the Metro station, we arrived at our hotel to find it on lockdown. The guard let us in. Once upstairs in our room we sat in silence watching CNN International. Our phones started lighting up with texts and emails from our family, friends and colleagues asking if we were OK. They knew something bad happened in Paris and they knew we were in Paris. We were safe, as far as we knew. We did our best to answer every phone call, video call, text and email. Facebook made it easy to get the word out to many. I was overwhelmed with the genuine concern there was for our safety and well-being. Our girls were fine. Natalie was glued to the news as usual, and Julia was busy with the school stage crew. They knew we were safe.
But we needed to be together again as a family. Unbelievably, our scheduled flight home went as planned the next day. More unbelievably is that everything went smoothly from our ride from the hotel to the airport, the plane ride, security, baggage claim and driving home to Allentown from Philadelphia.
I feel such a strong sense of gratitude for everything in my life. Some things stay the same and are comforting like the warmth of a coffee at an outdoor café, and being surrounded by loved ones. Some things don’t change like the terrifying hatred that exists in our world and shakes us at the core of our being.