The e-mail asking me if I was okay caught me by surprise. I immediately checked BBC.com and found chaos in Paris. Bombs. Shootings. Deaths. Injuries. Fugitives. Hostages.
Like so many, I was up for hours. Following what was happening. Reaching out to people. Trying to understand what was happening. I sent messages to family saying I was okay.
The next morning, a wave of 9/11 memories hit. The chaos…the scariness of the certainty of what had happened…and the uncertainty of what still might happen.
I saw it in my French housemate’s face. In her need to watch the footage again and again. I knew that feeling. That sense of vulnerability. Sadness. The need to understand, but knowing you will never understand.
I was in Washington, DC on 9/11. Like so many, I knew people who died that day…in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon and in the twin towers. I still can’t talk about it in-depth without getting emotional.
I also know some people living in Paris and people who have loved ones in Paris. In this case, the news there was all positive. But a friend in Washington, DC later told me that someone who worked at the Paris branch of her international law firm was killed at the Bataclan concert.
Then came the manhunt in Brussels. The city lock down.
Even in my Dijon cocoon, the aftermath haunted me. The number of times I had been in Paris the month or so before and in Brussels just three weeks earlier made everything even more unsettling.
Many friends contacted me. I found that I could write most e-mails in response to people inquiring about my safety without getting emotional, but that wasn’t necessarily the case when talking about it. At least not at first.
Soon my favorite holiday arrived: U.S. Thanksgiving. To me, Thanksgiving represents family and blessings. There’s nothing commercial about the holiday; it’s just a time to be together and be grateful. And, of course, there’s the wonderful meal, particularly the mashed potatoes, stuffing, and corn. The next day, there’s my mom’s potato pancakes for breakfast and then lunch with a friend I’ve known since junior high school.
When I moved to Budapest, I wasn’t able to travel home for Thanksgiving. It was the first Thanksgiving I had ever missed. For those two years in Hungary, I traveled to new nearby places to ensure I was properly distracted.
This year, I was stuck in class all day on Thanksgiving.
With no one else from the States in my cohort, and only one other in a related program, Thanksgiving was almost a nonevent. It made me sad. Fortunately, I was able to Skype with my immediate family members that night.
Two days after Thanksgiving, I was headed to Strasbourg for the weekend. The lure of the city’s Christmas markets was strong. A friend in Germany who was supposed to meet me canceled. The current environment was too unsure. I understood, but was disappointed. I started to wonder if I should still go. The markets had been targeted in the past. And the daily warnings I received from the U.S. Embassy in Paris reminded me of the worldwide alert, the continuing threat in Europe, and the need for extreme caution in what seemed to be every possible place.
How could a trip to Christmas markets be so fraught with apprehension?
I went. We have to continue to live our lives.
There were police and military with machine guns everywhere and checkpoints to get into the city center. Rather than spoil the mood, I think it provided a feeling of comfort. I loved my visit, and not once did I feel the need to have an escape route in mind.
Am I okay? Yes. But I’ll be even better in a week, because I’ll be in the States for the holidays, surrounded by loved ones. During times of crisis, uncertainty, or even stress, there’s no place I’d rather be.
I haven’t been home since April. It feels too long. My inner Dorothy thinks so too. Her chant keeps getting louder and louder: There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.