I woke up early Tuesday morning to the screeching of trams rolling along the tracks mixed with the pleasant chirping of birds. After a thirty minute meditation, I eased into the morning routine of making breakfast, packing lunch for my son, getting my own bag ready for my Tuesday morning gym class and kissing my husband goodbye. The whole morning went smoothly and I felt calm and at ease with the world. On my way out of the gym, I decided to take a minute to read the headlines before heading to work. That’s when I first encountered the words Boston Marathon Bombing.
As I read through the Dutch article, my body pulled inward, the calmness that had settled within me ebbing away. I struggled with some of the vocabulary in the article and even considered stopping fellow gym goers to ask them to translate a few key words for me. That’s when I realized that no one else seemed to have Boston on their mind. I was surrounded by foreigners on foreign soil, and everyone was moving about as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
I wondered what it was like at home. Were people glued to the television, following instant tweets from people in the area or calling friends and family to check on their well being? What was going through the minds of the runners? Family members of those running? The crowd of people there to cheer them on? And who would do such a sick thing?
No one mentioned the tragedy to me the whole day. In all fairness, I didn’t encounter that many people, but it feels so weird to be disconnected from your homeland at times like these. It’s not like if I was in California right now I could be making a difference, but at least I’d be talking about it, and hopefully process the sadness and fear it plants in our hearts.
I recently read Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. In this collection of short stories, she writes about Indian people in various situations: a young Indian couple both born in the U.S. on vacation in India, who no longer relate to their Indian roots, young couples formed through arranged marriages who start their lives together on U.S. soil; a woman who comes to the U.S. to be with her Indian husband and pines away for fresh fish so readily available in her homeland, for the local customs and flavors of India. Even though every story had Indian people central to the plot, the themes of loss, displacement, sadness, new beginnings, making your own way in a new country–are universal.
One story that particularly stands out for me at this time is When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine. In this short story, told from the perspective of their 10 year-old daughter, Mr. Pirzada, a man from East Pakistan, joins her family regularly for dinner and to watch the news. It takes place in the Autumn of 1971 during the time that East Pakistan fought for sovereignty. Their eyes were glued to the television, seeing the future political state of East Pakistan unfold before them, while the Americans they knew seemed to be oblivious of this world event.
That is what it feels like to live on foreign soil; those around you are naturally concerned with the events in their own countries, not in something happening across the world. And more strange, is that The Hague is an international city with people from just about every country in the world living here, be they foreign diplomats or asylum seekers. Thus, my experience of cultural estrangement probably unfolds on a daily basis. But as an American, I grew up with the perspective that our news is world news to be heeded by all. Strange to have such a wake up call.
Another memory that percolated into my thoughts a few hours after reading about the Boston bombing was an experience I had two decades ago, ironically, in a movie theatre in the Harvard Square area of Boston, Mass. I went to see Schindler’s list with a friend. I was so immersed in the film and the atrocities it presented, that when I came out of the theater and stepped into the cold afternoon sunlight, I was shocked that life was carrying on normally all around me. How could anyone be jovial? Laughing? Shopping? Playing chess in the square? Didn’t they know what happened? Sure, the atrocities of WWII happened 50 some years earlier (I saw the film in 1993), but the experience had so fully consumed me, that it took me some time to adjust back to reality.
I say now, like so many from around the world have said before me, that my heart goes out to all the victims of the Boston marathon bombing. And rather than being completely downcast about the sinister side of human nature, I choose to focus on those officers, immigrants, and others who ran not toward safety, but in the direction of the blasts to help their fellow human beings. I suppose my choice to find something positive to focus upon is a luxury of distance, of experiencing something only through papers and videos. But I hope those who are in the midst of it know that they are loved and supported by people from all corners of the globe.