Real vs surreal

candle hearts

This morning around 8:15 my alarm radio goes off and they’re talking about something happening at the airport. It’s a statement of how mundane terrorism has become in current times, that I hit the snooze button and just wanted to get some extra sleep first. I’d hear what the fuss was on about later.

Several snoozes later, I finally dragged myself out of bed as I do most mornings, got ready and was more worried about being late for work, than the early morning fuss, until I got in my car. On the radio, they were talking to the weather man “who’s wife was there and how was that for him?”. Okay, so something a little bigger happened than the usual rumble and a few moment later, they did give a recap for those just tuning in. There had been a bomb attack at the airport and another one at a metro station. When I first heard it, my reaction wasn’t “holy crap!”, my reaction was more in the lines of “ah crap, now this.” The severity didn’t register at all, it hadn’t pierced into my own reality yet. Since it happened 15 miles away from me, and nothing around me in my direct environment had changed, it might as well have happened in Paris or New York. It still felt far away and I was just annoyed that my beloved, peaceful, beautiful country was going to be put in a bad light again in the media and I had to tell my friends yet again, that I’m safe and well and out of harm’s way. I even joked about it, when they advised people to stay inside or not to move, that I wish they had made that announcement sooner, so I could have slept a little longer.

It wasn’t until the responses came in, with more sighs of relief than before, that it started seeping in, that maybe this wasn’t just another nuisance, far away from me. Everyone at work was talking about it. Even though in a way it felt like just another day at the office, since nothing had physically changed there either… Except for that guard in the underground tunnel. It was just another day at the office, but then why couldn’t I focus? Why did I keep checking the news sites, which I never look at otherwise? The pictures didn’t lie, but since I haven’t been near those places much, I didn’t have a real connection with them. They too somehow felt far away. Why were people changing their profile picture to a Belgian flag? When people did it for the Paris attacks, sure, that was bad, but this was Belgium, my Belgium, nothing terrible happened in my Belgium. Sure we quarreled a lot, like brotherly or sisterly rivalry between provinces and language parts, and sure we had some bad apples, but this is my country, small, cultured and safe. But today maybe it wasn’t so safe.

It’s a complete distortion of reality, everything around you is exactly as it was yesterday, yet the air somehow changed, and nothing is really the same. Numbers become distorted too. How can this be a big deal, “only” 34 people died? In Paris it was 130, 9/11 counted more than thousands, have I become so numbed by all the terrorist events in the past years, that 34 lives have lost their meaning? “Only” 170 people got physically wounded, but what about the thousand people who were at that metro station and the many more at the airport that suffered psychological damage from the experience? Slowly it starts to sink in that something big did happen and it didn’t happen to other people, it happened to part of me. I may claim to be more American than Belgian, but I love my little country and someone attacked it, and in extension attacked me, attacked my friends, my family. I thank whatever Higher Force is currently in office that none of them were directly affected (that I currently know of). But what about the families of those that did, those that died, those that got wounded and those that couldn’t be reached because everyone was calling everyone and the phone networks got overloaded?

On the way home, to my neighborhood where everything was still as I left it this morning, peaceful, I get that same feeling of surreality again. How can something this awful have happened and everything still be the same? Then I remembered something I read once to help cope with a situation that seems too big for a big heart to fathom: look for the helpers. Taxi’s offered their free services to transport people from the airport to safety, all hospitals in the area helped out, people were offering their homes for those stranded in Brussels, looking for a safe place, or a place to stay, after having been stranded in Brussels during the lock down, people from all over the country wanted to find ways to help, donate blood, offer their first aid services, …

The terrorists might want to divide us, but we still come together, not just locally, but worldwide. They want to sow fear and hatred, but if there’s one thing that did surface in all this fog in my head, it was my rebellion. I refuse to let them control me with fear and hatred, I refuse to hate or fear bigger groups of population or religion, just because a few nut cases ruin it for everyone. I refuse to stay home and never leaving the house anymore because the outside world may have become a little less safe. I choose to focus on the good things, the warmth I felt reading all those comments from friends who were relieved to hear that I was safe, and in turn feeling my own relief when I read the same statuses of all my other friends and family close by, even of those I knew logically were out of harm’s way. I choose to focus on the beauty that is still in the world, the smile of my sugar bun, the blooming flowers, kittens being confused about iPads, catching up with old friends and watching a movie together over the internet 8 time zones apart and still connected. I choose love. I choose gratitude. I choose to feel connected. I choose to believe there is still hope amidst all this chaos. I choose to believe that a peaceful world is still possible and I choose to believe that light will conquer darkness in the end. Maybe that’s unrealistic of me, but it’s unrealistic thinking that is at the basis of all greatest inventions, so let my unrealistic thinking be the basis for the possibility of peace.

I wish you all a peaceful night and a hopeful heart.

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