We 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?
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.
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.