“What does a suicide bomber look like?” I wonder as I grip my backpack and let my gaze wander from the left to the right and back again. Sitting on the Tube, my friend and I have six stops left before we reach our hostel. As the doors open once again I find myself scanning each new stranger that embarks. What are the signs of a suicide bomber? I am no expert, yet my gaze lingers on each person. Could that fluffy coat be hiding an explosive belt? Is there actually a child in that baby stroller? Is anyone fidgeting, looking around, or seeming uncomfortable? What are the last thoughts of someone who is about to kill others, ending his own life in the process?
There are security officers at every stop. They stand solemn and still. As I send a prayer for their safety upward, a part of me can’t help but be glad that I don’t have their job. About half of the people riding the Tube this morning are reading a newspaper; a picture of yesterday’s Brussels attacks covers every front page. Everyone who does not have a newspaper is looking on with someone who does. The woman sitting across from me frowns and shakes her head. I presume she is disgusted at the disregard for human life.
The tension is thick. I am on the edge of my seat. I play out scenarios in the back of my mind. Tackling a gunman and securing his weapon. Grabbing a child and jumping out of the line of fire. Whether or not I would actually be able to display such bravery if caught in an actual terrorist attack is uncertain even to me.
My mind is uneasy and I hate that the terrorists have been able to reach me. They have taken my peace of mind. And isn’t that their goal? To strike fear into the hearts of their enemies? They want me to wonder if I’m next. They want me to distrust my neighbors. The problem with worrying about terrorist attacks is that you can never know when or where they will take place. You can take precautions but in the end there is very little you or I can do to stop someone who is determined to kill himself and others.
Security is raised right now but eventually things will go back to normal. Living in fear does no good; fear too easily leads to panic, and in panic we strike out in aggression. Along with the raised tension is a show of solidarity. People are coming together for a righteous and just cause; they will stand strong against these attacks.
As I ride the London Eye tonight, I rise above the clouds with a heavy heart. I see buildings lit up with red, yellow, and black lights, and I am reminded that the people of London-indeed, the people of the world-stand with Brussels. We are one, and that knowledge gives me the courage to go on and the strength to work through my fear.
I wrote this account of events in my journal on Wednesday, March 23, 2016. I was backpacking with a friend over spring break and we were in Edinburgh when we noticed flags flying at half-mast and found out about the suicide bombings in the Brussels airport. It was a scary and somber time to be traveling in Europe; yet I am more confident than ever that we must not let fear rule our lives.