Brussels Bombing – Freedom to Fly in the Terror Age

imagesWe knew it was only a matter of time until the next terrorist attack. Yet, when the suicide bombers struck the Brussels international airport and near the heart of the European Commission at Maelbeek subway station, the shock, horror and disbelief reverberated around the world.

Weeks earlier, during a long lay over in the Brussels airport on our way to a basketball tournament in Vienna, my team dispersed to wander in gift shops and buy snacks. Though a few armed guards patrolled, the ambiance remained peaceful. Even so, when my team regrouped at our departure gates, I breathed a sigh of relief as I counted heads. Under my watchful eye, the girls lounged in comfy seats passing time by telling stories, texting friends, taking pictures and giggling, enjoying the last vestiges of youth.

To comprehend the impact of terror attacks, one has to understand how closely we are interlinked in Europe. With low-cost airlines one can fly from one capital to another for less than the price of a tank of gas. We travel through national borders more often than most Americans cross state lines.

My home in Switzerland is a mile from France, so I border hop to shop, hike, and dine out. When I coached at the American School of Paris, Brussels teams were part of our international athletic conference. Presently during our school break in Geneva, some students returned home to the Belgian capital; others traveled through there on route to their homelands.

After I heard the news of another attack, my first impulse was to reach out. I contacted friends whose children live and work in Brussels. Yet even after loved one’s safety is assured, doom prevailed. How can we stop this fatal spiral of violence?

tnPAB3n05I0wkA2AiQM-FGruhag6LKcP3pn1bTkO65ynq_k56sPDvE9sTtq-L95z4GJrSw=s115My family and friends live cross culturally. Our only link to each other is by air travel, so fly we must, but never without trepidation, never without fear.                 .

Thankfully I have never been the victim of a terrorist attack, but I have deplaned on an Italian runway, while police dogs searched cargo after a bomb threat. I have been standing at an American Airlines ticket counter in Paris when security forces cleared the area to detonate an unclaimed bag. And I have taught students who lost loved ones in terrorist attacks. I will never forget the words of one former student who wrote,

«When I found out that my mom died in the Nairobi bombing, I was so shocked,  I ran straight through a glass door. »

In the future, we must continue to cross borders, reach out to others, exchange information and stay united. We must maintain open lines of communication to learn about other cultures, faiths and nationalities.

But today we must mourn. Our hearts ache for Brussels a beautiful capital city in a small, peace32771D1300000578-3505016-Tributes_People_hold_up_a_banner_as_a_mark_of_solidarity_at_Plac-a-21_1458678138603 loving country, resplendent with culture, tradition and charm.

Tomorrow we must spread our wings. Soon, my brother will fly to Brussels for business, my daughter will fly to Geneva for family and my son will fly to London for love.

Fear must never keep us grounded. We must continue to soar free like a bird. And then fight with every ounce of our strength to uphold that freedom.

Posted in family, relationships, social view, travel.


  1. I really enjoyed reading this and needed to hear it as well! My daughter is in France until the end of April but will be traveling for two weeks soon to the south of France, Paris, Budapest and Prague. Budapest and Prague require flights out of a small Belgium airport, an hour outside of Brussels. I try not to be alarmist, nor to fear for her and her friends’ safety. So I so appreciate your message: fear must never keep us grounded. Great blog post, Pat.

    • As mothers I am sure we fear much more for our children than we do for ourselves. Yet like my mom always told me she loved and nurtured me, then let go and gave me wings to fly. With all the heightened security the European airports are probably safer than ever before, but still I know how hard it is when the world seems fraught with so many more dangers than when we were launched. I hope your daughter and her friends’ lives will be enriched from her travels abroad and trust that she will land back safely in the home nest soon.

  2. Sis….I read this as I prepare to fly Today to Arizona to be with family. I fly with faith but mourn the loss in Brussels. Thanks for the blog. Te amo!

  3. Thanks for the encouraging word and thoughts Pat. Our youngest daughter, Makenzie, was in Barcelona when the Paris bombings happened in December. Her boyfriend, now husband, is a France citizen who was in Paris while Makenzie was finishing her study abroad program. Luckily Kevin was visiting Makenzie in Barcelona that horrible weekend. Even though we knew both were “safe” in Barcelona, I still had a sick feeling in my stomach. The rest of here stay in Barcelona was marred by tighter security and armed guards around famous sites and the Metra.

    • Rhona, I hope that Kevin and Makenzie (love her name by the way) will be safe wherever she travels. Will they be settling in France or coming back to the states? How did they meet? I am curious about their story? I know that sick to stomach feeling. Right now, I am awaiting news from my son’s British girlfriend to know that he has arrived safely in London as he flew over last night to see her. Thank you for reaching out with your comment.

  4. It is so very sad what has happened to our world. Here in America we are grieving for Brussels as we did for Paris and every city that has endured such tragedy. With a son and daughter-in-law living abroad, my fear escalates every time something like this happens.

    • We grieve together, my friend. I thought of you after each tragic event because I know that your son and daughter-in-law live here and travel often for their business. As mothers we are so torn, a part of us wants to keep our children close to home but a greater part knows that we can never stand in the way of their dreams and to let go is our greatest gift. I hope that they will do a better job of bringing about world peace than our generation has done and it seems like your son’s work is a step in the right direction. It begins with reaching out to others.

  5. Pat, my heart aches for you, for Belgium, for Europe, for all of us. We are all interconnected and the ripple of terror is felt by us all. I wish peace and happiness and fun as those you love head out this weekend.

  6. I also wrote about flying and traveling this week, but I’m sad to say that my fear has beaten my bravery and I won’t be flying out of the U.S. anytime soon. Many have said the same thing – “the terrorists have won if we stay home,” but by making the decision to stay put for the time being, I believe I’ve won because for me, travel isn’t a necessity, nor am I someone who travels frequently to begin with. I’m glad there are so many who will continue to fly around the globe, but at this time I won’t be one of them.

    • I can completely understand your need to stay closer to home right now. It is a scary time to travel and if my family wasn’t so international and spread apart I may have opt out too. But I do hope that when things settle down you will consider flying to Europe especially Switzerland, so that I could have the opportunity to meet you. As a mom, you can relate to this relief… my son just texted to say he arrived safely in London. It makes me wonder how my parents could have handled it when I first moved abroad as a 23 year old in the days before Internet especially when I lived in a flat without a phone.

    • We will be leaving for Europe at the end of April—by plane. Last year, I took 14 flights. Random violence is scary because it is random, but staying home in no way avoids it. Last week in “Killadelphia”, a young man was stabbed to death a block from where I live. When my son was in first grade, a small plane carrying our then Senator, John Heinz, crashed into a helicopter above one of the other elementary schools in our tranquil, suburban school district. Two little girls playing in the schoolyard were killed. We knew one of them. Staying home guarantees nothing.

      • Thanks for your encouraging words, Suzanne. We are all vulnerable no matter where we live and work and travel. Unfortunately random violence is universal and strikes indiscriminately. I hope you have a wonderful trip to Europe. Safe travels.

  7. Thanks for reminding us to put our fears aside and carry on dong the things we need to do… despite the tangible and terrifying threat of terrorism. We live in a global space and I have lost count of the amount of planes I have taken in my life. Without planes I would not be living and working in Australia, and without the (perhaps naive) belief that ‘it won’t happen to me’, I would not step onto another plane. Fear is debilitating and eats up our dreams and visions. I will fly on in the face of it. Crossing the road has higher death statistics after all, along with suicide. Love and strength to you my dear brave friend xxx

    • Thanks Rach. As a fellow expat, I know you know what it takes. Our existence living between worlds is never easy, but it is oh so enriching and your daughters will be grow even more perceptive, insightful and tolerant for having lived cross culturally. Fear is debilitating. That is why I am so glad that you introduced me to yoga and breathing. I can’t tell how many times I have used that breathing technique in airports. Be safe dear friend. xxx

  8. We’ll travel to Europe this summer as planned. We’ve discussed “what if” we found ourselves in an active terror situation, and have devised an agreement on what the best steps to take might be. We’ve also discussed ways to increase our situational awareness under this “new normal.” You can only do your best, so let’s encourage each other to better our personal bests as we navigate this troubling landscape, as you have with this post.

    • Thanks for connecting on the boulevard, Betsy. Although we have practiced locked down at my school, I have never thought about devising a plan of what to do in a terror situation, but it is a good suggestion and situational awareness is a must. I found your website inspiring and the lifestyle you have chosen fascinating. Where will you be visiting in Europe? I hope that one day we can connect on either side of the Atlantic; we also spend time in a northwoods cabin in the land of lakes.

  9. Lovely post, Pat. You’re absolutely right, you know. Flying is such a freeing feeling, and we can ill afford to allow fear to keep us grounded. I loved the way you expressed it — that traveling across country lines there is done more often than crossing state lines in the U.S. Wow, who’d’a thought?!! Happy Easter, and stay safe!

    • Yep, Debbie, I could walk to France every day. It would only take 15 minutes max. Since 1990 the Schengen Convention, which supplemented the Agreement Agreement, abolished internal border controls within the 26 European members. The Schengen area operates like a single state for international travel with controls at external entry and exit points. Although this has greatly facilitated travel, it makes tracking terrorists across borderlines much more difficult. Now we have to develop better communication and sharing of intelligence between countries and some kind of European security organization that is allowed to cross lines.

  10. The news has been so terrifying lately. To be honest wth you, I stopped flying many years ago. I know I’m missing out on some great travel, but I just don’t trust the way things are in the world right now.

    • From your blog it sounds like you would have no reason to leave the neighborhood. You have enough action to keep you hopping right at home. There is enough adventure under one’s own roof to last a lifetime. I can certainly understand why people would stop flying and I am finding it takes a greater toll on my body each trip. Glad we met on the boulevard and I look forward to following you.

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