(This piece was published October 2014 by The Huffington Post.)
Every time I go to Paris, I stay at the same hotel. It’s a rustic little place across from Notre Dame Cathedral. It has a winding wooden staircase, and the rooms are sparse, but clean. There’s a wooden bed, a bureau and a small desk. No wifi, no elevator, no room service and no TV, but I love staying there.
I flew to Paris last week to spend time with a friend. When I checked in, the room wasn’t quite ready yet, so I stood at the front desk chatting with the clerk. I practiced my rusty French, and, along with his decent English, we were able to communicate.
We talked about what was new with Paris, and then began chatting about world events. This inevitably led to the most tragic news stories: Syria. Iran. Ebola. ISIS.
The clerk dropped his head in shame and swept his arm around the room. “I am sorry for the decadence,” he said.
I looked around the small lobby with a low ceiling, worn rug and well-used red velvet sofa. It didn’t look that decadent to me.
“What did you say?” I asked him.
“I am sorry for the decadence of Paris,” he said, apologizing to me on behalf of the entire city. He said the city’s investment in food, architecture, wine and incredible art seemed so wasteful in light of the world’s troubles.
“No!” I exclaimed, with more emotion than I intended. “The world needs Paris!”
The world needs Paris? I thought, the second the words had escaped from my mouth.What does that even mean?
I could tell from the clerk’s face that he was asking the same question. So I tried to explain.
“The world needs gorgeous places and amazing food and incredible art because… because when we’re fighting evil armies and ravaging diseases, we need to know what we’re fighting for. And the world needs Paris because in light of all the horrendous things human beings are capable of doing, we need to know that we’re also capable of extraordinary beauty.”
The world needs Paris.
The world needs Paris to be what it is.
And the world needs us, too.
The world needs us to make whatever contribution we can to alleviate suffering — whether it’s making a donation or volunteering time or traveling overseas to partner with international relief efforts or lighting a candle or saying a prayer.
And then, when we’ve given what we can, the world needs us to be.
It needs us to be hopeful — to live towards a better future, even though sometimes it’s difficult to keep believing, given all the pain we see in our collective past.
The world needs us to be people who are kind, merciful, forgiving, funny and engaging.
The world needs us to keep creating beautiful art and fashion and architecture in spite of all the tragedy we see.
The world needs us to continue to make welcoming spaces where weary souls can rest.
The world needs us to love the children around us, to help them become the peaceful people we want the next generation to be.
Creating beauty and cultivating creativity when so many people are hurting is not decadent; it’s important. It’s imperative.
Because we need to remember what we’re all fighting for.
And we need to remember the exquisite beauty human beings are capable of creating — a beauty that transcends the hate and violence and injustice we see.
The world needs Paris.
The world needs me.
The world needs us.