A month ago, I woke up to a message on a Sunday morning from a friend in Australia. “I hope you’re safe. My thoughts are with everyone in Kalamazoo.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but it didn’t take me long to find out. I typed the name of this town I call home into Google. Instantly headlines appeared: “Mass shooting in Kalamazoo,” “Six dead, two injured after shooting rampage in Michigan.”
My mom was visiting that weekend. The night before, we had gone to the cinema my parents both love to go to when they’re in town. We drank beer and watched Channing Tatum dance around in a sailor suit. On the way to the movie theater, I was telling my mom how much I like living here, how I feel like I am finally part of a community. After years of moving from one city to another, never living longer than a few years in any one place, I am finally starting to feel like I’m a part of something. Like I might actually live somewhere I can call home.
I had no idea that mere miles away a crazed man had just gunned down four people at a Cracker Barrel and two other people in the parking lot of a car dealership.
I’ve written so many times on my blog about how you shouldn’t let the fear of bad things happening to you stop you from traveling or doing other scary things because bad things can happen to you anywhere — even in your home.
It’s one thing to say that.
It’s a whole other thing to wake up to your home becoming the next tragic headline.
This week, the people of Brussels woke up to find their own home in the news. Shortly before that it was Istanbul and Ankara. Months before that it was Paris. The city where these people lived, loved, worked, danced, hugged their children was now a place of horror, a cautionary tale.
And now the headlines have changed again. They’re asking if it’s safe to travel in Europe or Turkey. And the U.S. State Department has warned American citizens to “exercise vigilance” when traveling throughout all of Europe.
What these headlines and travel advisories fail to mention is that Brussels, Ankara, Istanbul and Paris are not just far-off places on a map for people to visit — they are homes. These places are not just populated by airports and museums and hotels and five-star restaurants — but by houses and schools and offices and corner stores where you know the guy behind the counter and you can go there in your pajamas and you don’t feel like anyone’s going to judge you.
I don’t see headlines asking if it’s safe to have a home. I don’t see advisories telling us to “exercise vigilance” in our daily lives — while walking to work, while meeting friends for coffee, while at happy hour with our coworkers, while standing in our pajamas at the corner store, a half gallon of two-percent milk in our hands.
But maybe it’s in these places we call home that we need to be the most cautious. These places where we feel safe and secure are not any safer than those far-off places on a map. In fact, they are more dangerous. Because when something horrible happens in that place you call home, it doesn’t just mean a headline breaks. Your own heart breaks with it.