when bad things happen

Often times, when you cross a border or an ocean, you leave a life on the other side. It may be you have an intention to return to the place you left, or not. Maybe it is a vacation, a gap year, a career break, or just time away. But going forward you will undoubtedly have a “before” and an “after” regardless of the reasons for your departure.

That is what today is all about, not only in the United States, but the whole world over. The country in which I was born has made countless references  to life before 9-11 and after 9-11. And why not? We lost sons and daughters of our great nation, and sent others abroad as part of the same sacrifice. Two towers fell and a story raised up in the history of America, one whose plot unravels with every new day after 9-11.

One of the biggest questions today is Where were you (when the first tower was hit, when the plane hit the Pentagon, when the President declared war)? Personally, I was a freshman at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, on my way to an Accounting class on a beautiful fall day. The story of my country changed dramatically, but my life remained largely the same. I went to class, to volleyball practice, to parties. I was at home, away from home, safely ensconced in the United States.

Three years later, I was somewhere else. After my first year at Albright, I transferred to Moravian College for a double major in international business and Spanish, which would ultimately lead me abroad. So it was in 2004 when I was once again at home, away from home, nestled in my señora’s apartment in Granada, Spain. March 11, 2004 dawned in Andalucia to shouts of disbelief in my living room: a bomb had gone off in Madrid’s Atocha train station. My host family’s son was living in Madrid at the time and working for the Spanish government, and possibly caught in this terrorist attack.

I walked to school in a daze, and before long every student and professor had gathered around the inner patio. Someone asked for a moment of silence, and we stood staring at the tile, at a loss for words. Leaving class later that morning, I found out my host family’s son was safe in the capital, amidst the horror of the day. En route to the AIFS office, my phone rang and I quickly discovered that my own family had a horror of a different kind to face that day.

Several hours after the destruction in Madrid, some 3,000 miles across the pond, my grandmother passed away. It would turn out to be one of the longest and most painful weekends of my life. My adopted city took to the streets in a show of solidarity, headlines crying “No os olvidamos” (We will never forget you). My parents made the long drive to New England for my grandmother’s funeral. Spain identified a terrorist cell responsible for the bombings, and George W. Bush proclaimed, “Today, we are all Spaniards.” My family gathered together to remember a beautiful woman and I cried enough tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean between us.

Ultimately, I stayed in Spain. The weekend lengthened incredibly for my parents, as they returned home to euthanize our ailing dog, only to get back on the road for the funeral on Monday. After much deliberation with my parents, and my director, I crawled back into bed in my Spanish flat and grieved from far away. It turns out that bad things happen, even when you’re not home. Lots of people were away from New York in 2001, and away from Madrid in 2004, but the events there changed their lives all the same.

Know that while you travel, life continues somewhere else. Your before and after may be shaped by events outside of your control, and there is nothing you can do to prepare yourself. Should this stop you from traveling? Absolutely not. Bad things can happen in your own backyard, or halfway around the world. But good things can happen, too. So breathe deep and enjoy every minute, because … why not?

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4 thoughts on “when bad things happen

  1. My grandparents died too when I was studying abroad in Spain. My parents also got divorced. I know how you felt; you said it so well. I particularly liked how you described crying enough tears to fill the Atlantic. I did that too.

    Excellent, powerful, honest post.

    Like

    • Thanks for your kind words, Alexandria. Sometimes there are some really harsh reminders of life at home, while you’re away. A big learning experience, to be sure.

      Like

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