Rikki Li is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2016, sharing her story in weekly posts on CAPA World. An English Writing and Psychology major at the University of Pittsburgh, she is studying abroad in London this semester.
In the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks, Rikki writes about the realities of living in Europe in the current political state of the world and why we can not give in to fear.
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I hesitated about writing this at first, though I soon realized that it really wasn’t a choice, but a responsibility.
On March 22, three nail bombs detonated in two airports and a metro station in Brussels, Belgium, killing over 30 people and injuring over 300. Several days prior, on March 13, a car full of explosives destroyed parts of Atatürk Boulevard in Ankara, Turkey, killing over 37 people and injuring over 125. Most recently, on March 27th Easter Sunday, a suicide bomb killed over 72 people and injured over 341 in Lahore, Pakistan. Still more terrorist bombings have occurred in 2016 alone, in Istanbul, Jakarta, Burkina Faso, Mogadishu, and the Ivory Coast, though the bulk of Western media has not been so diligent in acknowledging them [source].
A few years ago, I accidentally swallowed a gumball that was too big for my throat. I remember, vividly, my upper body convulsing, trying to expel the obstruction while also trying desperately to take in air. The world around me blurred and stretched. Time felt distorted, like it was caught in a stalling, recursive loop. Every part of my body seemed to be working at such frantic speed, for the same singular purpose, that all I could feel in those few seconds was an absolute, resounding numbness.
That same numbness has returned to me in light of these recent terrorist attacks, but now purely as a mental state. It feels like sleep paralysis, like being held down underwater, like the most horrific example of déjà vu. It has not even been half a year since the widely-reported Paris bombings that occurred just as I was beginning to seriously consider my study abroad plans for the spring semester.
What do I have left to offer that hasn’t already been said? All over the news, all over social media, there is the chaos of responses left behind by the attacks. There is grief for the victims. There is anger towards the media’s partisan coverage. There is hatred, fear, indifference, and disillusionment. Here in London, the Evening Standard has published multiple articles concerning the attacks, but many of them have been left on the Tube without being seriously read. Again, it is the disillusionment, illustrated in real time. Last night, I watched a man open the Standard, glance briefly at the relevant article, and consciously, purposefully, put it aside.
But I am no better. I picked up the newspaper after he left and flipped to the article myself. It was a reaction to the Brussels bombing in relation to the famous Belgian cartoon Tintin. I read a few lines, then put the newspaper down. What’s the point, I thought. Those people are dead. We cannot escape terror in the same way we cannot escape tragedy. So what? So what? SO WHAT?
There is no feeling more wretched than helplessness.
I don’t know “so what.” But, let me tell you a story.
The day of the Brussels bombing, I was on the Tube during rush hour, sandwiched between a man holding a suitcase and a woman wearing a brown, tweed coat. As the Tube slowed at another stop, two more men squeezed through the doors, each sporting a lumpy gym bag. The bags were harmless, no doubt, but as I stared at the dark, polyester lining, I wondered, for the briefest moment, what would happen if those bags had contained bombs.
I suddenly became aware, in sharp and unprecedented clarity, of the sheer number of lives contained in that tiny, shared space on the Piccadilly train. There was a man reading a book, a toddler playing with her mother’s hair. A high school student eating a pastry and humming to herself. A woman finishing a crossword in the newspaper. A man talking on the phone.
In that moment, I mourned. I mourned for every single person on that train, and I mourned for the people whose lives had been so abruptly ended by acts of terror and hatred. I mourned for their loved ones. I mourned, because for every single person that died in the attacks, there could have been a tomorrow—until there wasn’t.
I don’t know “so what,” but I do know this: we cannot give in to disconnection. We cannot let ourselves go numb.
There is an argument I learned in philosophy that states: death is evil because it deprives us of life, which is a good and righteous thing. I believe, then, in the unjust absence of life, that remembering life must also be a good and righteous thing. True, it is not concrete solution; in fact, it’s not a solution at all. But memories, eulogies, memorials—these things are greater than hate and stronger than fear.
We will not walk this earth forever. One day, our bones will all dissolve to dust. But while we are here, in this microscopic, diaphanous infinity, we can carry each tragedy like a candle flame. We can choose to believe that there are more good people in this world than bad. We can strive to be those good people, and we can display our memoriams like talismans of hope. Together, just like this, we pulse and breathe and flicker—until we softly give ourselves to darkness, and all that’s left is wax.
Rikki's journey continues every Tuesday so stay tuned.