Grappling with Tragedy from Afar

There is nothing, I’ve decided, that makes you feel farther from home than a catastrophe in your home country as an expatriate.

On Tuesday, I woke up early, got out of bed, fed my dog, went to the gym, showered, and went into work. My co-worker arrived at work, greeted me, then mentioned how sad what happened in Boston was, and my heart sank directly to my knees. Something terrible had happened, I could already tell. But I hadn’t even heard. My best friend lives in Boston, and I hadn’t even heard. It’s like the air is sucked out of your chest and in a millisecond you expect the worst, instantly jumping to a worst-case scenario where anyone you could possibly know and love, and thousands you don’t, are hurt or dead.

Then comes the frantic Googling, the phone calls, the Facebook checks, anxiously diving into misreported details and watching footage on television and choking back a lump in your throat and blinking away the tears that rise in your eyes as you watch a great American city thrown in chaos once again.

My friend was fine, everyone else I knew was OK, but here I was on this island and my country had been wounded, if only temporarily. It’s a helplessness and internal yearning for solidarity I can’t even describe, desperately trying to understand why someone would even dream up such an unfathomable and cowardly attack on a group of people who couldn’t be more innocent.

But what really gets me, and I would venture to say most Americans who aren’t able to hug the people they love when these terrifying reminders of the absurdity of the world come crashing into consciousness, is seeing the scores of people who rush toward danger to help. Boston is a town known for the size of it’s heart and pride in equal measure, and the size of that heart was seen in every single police officer, marathon volunteer, and fellow spectator who rushed toward that explosion and did incredibly clear-minded and heroic things to help the people who were hurt. Seeing the heroism of our fellow countrymen in action, so sharply contrasted by cowardice of the person or people who committed this ugly act, makes those of us placed elsewhere ache for even the strangers that passed us by every day on the street when we lived stateside. It makes us want to do more than post a picture on Facebook and feel our hearts bleed for the people who were killed or forever changed by this awful act.

But since I’m here, I have to be content with the fact that I come from a country where good far outweighs evil, even if evil sometimes makes a louder noise. I come from a country where one or two people may do an ugly thing, but dozens more risk their lives to help those in need. And even though I’ve left, these are reasons more than any other why I’ll never not be proud to be an American.

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