A few minutes to 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon I stepped inside my hotel room in Amsterdam. I took off my shoes and threw my jacket on the bed, just like any other day. With not more than the bare minimum time to drop off my bags I quickly plugged my phone into the charger, and as the screen lit I saw the small red notification from DN, one of Sweden’s more serious daily newspapers, “Truck drove into a crowd in central Stockholm.” This was at 15:05, and 15 minutes earlier the Swedish police had received the alarm. At that time there was no clear information about either casualties or fatalities. I sat on the side of the bed and looked at the screen until it turned black. I felt how the shivers ran down my spine as I left my room.
Half an hour later I was on the bus heading towards some of the blossoming tulip fields of Netherlands. The bus had wifi. Two confirmed fatalities the modest and only available wifi allowed me to find out at that point. I took a deep breath and glanced out the landscape whizzing by outside the window, and I thought about my day. As I’d bent forward to scan my Id to report for work yesterday morning, with my carry-on bag in one hand and my suitcase in other, two alarm clocks probably went off somewhere in Stockholm. Somewhere, two persons reluctantly got out of bed, to get ready for the last working day of the week. As my plane took off, one person stood squeezed in between a herd of other commuters on the Stockholm subway in rush hour. And one person was stuck in traffic, slamming on the wheel and swearing out loud at fellow motorists blaming them for coming in late. When I sat down for five stolen minutes to bolt down a quick lunch from an aluminum foil, one person heated their brought homemade lunch in the staff canteen microwave. And one person sat down in a fancy eatery for lunch break, treating themselves to the fact that the week was almost over. When I stood in the lobby waiting to check in, two peoples roads crossed on Drottninggatan in Stockholm one the way home from work. One who lives on the outskirts of town but who’d taken a detour just today, to pick up a surprise for his partner. And one who walks the same short route every day to his car. Both so anticipant for the weekend. Both eager to get back home and unplug for two days. Both of them feeling like life was good, really good. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the bright light came rushing down the street in full speed, and not one of them managed to get out of its way in time. In one instant, only silence was left. And there I was, going to see flowers.
Someone lost their son or daughter today. And someone might have lost their father or mother. Someone might have lost their best friend. And someone might have lost the love of their life. And I was sitting there, on my way to look at flowers. I wanted to cry, I really did. This hit so close to home, in both time and space. But what’s there to let out when you feel empty inside, when there’s nothing there? When you feel so much at the same time that your mind decides to don’t feel anything because it’s too unbearable? No, what I’ve come to realize, is that the sad and horrid experiences don’t overcome me like they used to do, and that’s because I’ve learned that they are not the rare experiences. They are not one who deserves my tears.
Recently I’m following Swedish war correspondent Magda Gad’s Facebook page like a religion. Magda is based in Iraq and gives daily reports on the amongst others the war between IS and the Iraqi forces, focusing on the victims of the war, the civilians. The ones who didn’t ask for war, but who are compelled to suffer the consequence, by fleeing their homes and risking their own and their families lives. Many of her updates don’t revolve stories with a happy ending She wants to open people’s eyes, and she manages to do so with both professionalism and empathy. Showing how many’s nightmares is many’s reality. When I see these stories, I feel the same emptiness as I did yesterday. But I never cry.
Anyone who’s seen the world, or at least a vast part of it, will tell you that sometimes you have to look closely before you find the beauty in a place. It’s not always as romantic as you’d think, and learning this has made me sensitive. Because it’s the kind-hearted, genuine and unconditional gestures that are the rare ones nowadays. Most of the places where I fall asleep at night are considered safe. It’s considered safe to walk outside, to take the train and to live a life. But, not all of these places are friendly places. Far from actually. Because the world is not black and white. There are other dimensions than war and peace, and that’s as difficult as it is important to know.
Two days ago an elderly lady took my hand upon disembarkation from the aircraft and said: “Thank you for the service” with friendly eyes whiles patted gently on my head. I had to turn my head away to wipe my eyes. A few weeks ago I visited the slums of Dhaka in Bangladesh and got shown around by the kids who lived there. One girl took my hand and invited me into the tiny shed which was their house. I bent under the narrow doorframe, and as I stepped in the mother of the family instantly stood up from the house’s only chair to offer it to me. Despite having nothing to offer, they still cared for me to have the very best they could give. Despite having nothing. In the car going home from that visit our guide said, “I hope this did not upset you, it’s just another life.” I wiped my eyes, and we all remained silent for the whole ride back.
In my emptiness today I started to think about a conversation I had with my best friend a few days ago. “How am I supposed to sit down and have a cup of coffee and feel deserving of it ever again, when people are still struggling to survive?” She said to me as we were reading through Magda’s page. “How am I supposed to live a normal life and ever feel the right to complain about anything, when people die as we speak?”. There was a lengthy silence on the phone line between us after that, and then I said “Because of respect. To be living these hassle free lives where we have a bed to sleep in, food in our refrigerators and problems as trivial as whether or not the milk’s skimmed or full fat, or if the guy we’ve matched on Tinder is going to write us first, is the dream for these people who are running, hiding and dying. They would want nothing else but to have the simple lives that we live. So for us not to live our lives, with no reason not to, would be nothing but disrespectful.” There was another silence, and then she said, “Yes.”
The world has turned into an unpredictable place, which is most likely also the motive of whoever was behind the attack in Stockholm yesterday. Openness is no longer as common it used to be. Nor is kindness. And yes, the truth is that it can all be gone tomorrow. We might be gone tomorrow. For entirely different reasons than a maniac running us down on a pedestrian street. But, it can also be that tomorrow is not the last tomorrow. It might even be that there are several new tomorrows to come, and to me, that’s enough reason not to feel fear. Enough reason to enjoy all the real beauty, whenever you are fortunate enough to come across it. So for that reason yesterday, I looked at flowers. I looked for myself, and for the people who wish they could be looking at flowers.
And today, today is a new day to do what you can for this world to be a little less unpredictable. That’s what worth our tears.