Last Tuesday was probably the worst day of my life. It’s the day that terrorism hit my city. The day we lost all illusions about how safe we are. The day I felt most hopeless, but also loved like never before.
I woke up on Tuesday morning happy that the sun was shining. I had a pretty busy day, starting with a breakfast meeting at 8.30. While waiting for the bus, I receive an email from a colleague in Paris: “Are you ok? I see on the news there were explosions at the airport”. I’m kind of what do you mean explosions? It can’t be terrorists, the city has been under heavy surveillance since the Paris attacks. I check quickly Twitter and I see there were indeed explosions, but noone knows why and there are no reported deaths for the moment. My first thought is to call my mom, to let her know that something bad happened, but I’m safe and heading to a safe location where I will be for the next few hours. I also try to call my boyfriend who has just boarded a flight to the close-by airport of Charleroi to let him know that he should get out of the airport as soon as he can, because there are weird things happening in Brussels. Unfortunately, he has already deactivated his phone for the flight. I leave him a message to call me the moment he lands.
In the bus to my meeting, the girl next to me looks anxiously at the screen of my phone and asks me if I know anything more. 6 years in Brussels it is the first time that someone addresses me in the bus – it seems that tragedy does indeed bring people closer. I’m horrified by the first images: the roof has completely collapsed. The first rumours of a terrorist attack start spreading as well, but strangely enough, the airport still seems far away from where we are. There is some upheaval in the bus. I can hear a girl crying and screaming. I also panic for a few minutes thinking that my boyfriend is on the air flying to Brussels at this very moment. My eyes fill with tears, but I keep it cool. The mood is heavy, but I feel lucky at that moment that my boyfriend is landing at another airport.
I arrive at my meeting. Everyone is worried, but we start with our work like it’s business as usual. Until a few moments after 9 that someone says “they hit Maelbeek”. The metro station a few minutes away from my office. The station my boyfriend goes to every single morning to catch the metro to work. The station I very often accompany him to and kiss him goodbye before we go our separate ways to our offices. The station a lot of my friends go by every day on their way to work and home.
And then the struggle begins. I try to remain calm and I try to answer as many Facebook and WhatsApp messages I can as possible – news have reached home and everyone is trying to find out if I’m safe. At the same time, I try to see who of my friends has not activated their “I’m safe” button on Facebook and start texting people to make sure everyone is safe and sound. Phone lines are down, thank God for social media at this point. Everyone seems to be doing ok, friends and their families are safe, all my colleagues are accounted for.
And then, the terror slips in. Is it over? Was this just the beginning? What about the Charleroi airport? What about other big metro stations? The Grand Place? The Place Flagey? Are they coming for us? Have they been caught? Can I go home? I’ll walk, but which parts of the city should I avoid? My boyfriend has not landed yet….he told me he does not have enough battery on his phone…will he have the time to see my message? Does he know? Is it safe? Will it be safe ever again?
Brussels is my home. A place I didn’t chose, but learnt to love. It’s beautiful in a very special way -not because of its weather, its architecture or its rich tradition- but first and foremost because of its people.
I received so many messages that day. More than I’ve ever received for anything good that has happened in my life. People I didn’t even remember are my friends on Facebook. People I hadn’t spoken to for years. People that were not even people I liked any more. But none of this mattered, because with every single word of concern I received, my comfort grew bigger and bigger. It’s amazing what impact love can have on our lives.
So, what has changed since Tuesday? I’m not one of those people who say “we won’t change a thing, we won’t give terrorists this pleasure”. Of course things change. We are more careful. We take a second look around us before entering the metro. We are vigilant every second we spend outside the safety of our homes. We think twice before going to a concert or to the movies. Yes, terror is here. And yes, we can fight it. I don’t believe by ignoring it though. I believe, by loving.
The one thing I won’t change because of terror is how much I love people. I continue to keep loving them more and more. And I intend to show it more and more. I will flood this earth with love, I’ll invest every second of my time, every inch of my body to giving and receiving love. Because, that’s the only way to fight fear. And, ultimately, defeat it.