The Colchester Sun
Thousands of miles separate Colchester from the attacks that killed 43 people in Beirut and left more than 120 dead in France earlier this month.
Yet for a group of St. Michael’s College students and faculty who call these countries home, even the expansive distance cannot suppress the feelings of fear and shock.
Three international students — Meggane Grand, Thomas Boullier and Alexandre Mohbat — sat alongside Laurence Clerfeuille, a professor of French, during a panel discussion last Thursday, sharing how they’ve dealt with the tragedies. Thankfully, all of their friends and family were unharmed.
Thomas Bouiller, whose family lives in the center of Paris, said he often spends time in the area where the attacks occurred and has attended numerous concerts at the Bataclan, where gunmen killed 89 people on Nov. 13.
“That really made me think about being in the right place at the right time. If I was in Paris, I very possibly could have been there,” Boullier said, adding that his friends said they could hear the gunshots from their apartments. “When I talked to my mother the next day, she said Paris was a sad city.”
At times, emotion washed over some of the panelists as they relayed a collective sense of bewilderment. When the topic of teaching about the attacks came up in a conversation with colleagues, Clerfeuille said she wouldn’t even know where to start.
“The truth is I couldn’t simply teach the attacks for a few minutes at the beginning of class as when I have regular announcements about a quiz. I couldn’t teach the attacks in an organized way because it is not organized in my mind… I didn’t want to have the attacks as a context to talk about grammar and vocabulary,” Clerfeuille said.
Mohbat, who lives just outside of Beirut, spoke briefly before allowing 20 seconds to pass while he searched for words.
“It’s very sad,” he finally said. “I’m a bit stressed out, too.”
When Grand first heard news of the attacks, she opened her computer and scoured the Internet in search of information. More than that, however, she was hoping to make sense of it all.
“Why it happened is such a hard thought, and something I don’t think will ever understand. I don’t get it,” said Grand before taking a moment to regain her composure. “Right now I think it’s the same for everybody; you just feel powerless. The only thing that’s remaining is hope.”
Grand said the year is closing the same way it began for France — “in fear and incomprehension” — referring to the January attack on the French satirical news magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead. She said she hopes France will remain strong in the face of this tragedy, and “not let these terrible actions fill our souls with hatred.”
While she wishes she could be home with her family, Grand said she appreciates the support she has received from the college community.
“I feel safe and I don’t think that people in France or Lebanon do right now,” Grand said.
Bouiller echoed that notion, saying many have reached out to check on him and his loved ones.
While the discussion presented a venue for the panelists to share their thoughts, it was also a time for personal reflection, said Moise St. Louis, the associate dean of students and director of multicultural student services, in his opening remarks.
“Will we be able to listen more carefully; to hear and recognize the humanity of others because we will be able to see their suffering as our own?” St. Louis asked. “Today it is our friends from France, Nigeria and Beirut. Tomorrow, we are not sure. It is in this environment of fear and uncertainty that we must come together to listen and to take hold of our common humanity.”