I don’t mean survive in the obvious sense of the word. I was far enough from the airport (and Brussels) to be out of any real danger. But survival more along the meaning of ‘not breaking down and succumbing to my grief’. And maybe we all were in danger at some point.
Around 8:10 am, I left my house to walk to school. I had not heard anything of the explosions, strangely enough. When I said ‘far enough from the airport’, you should know that I mean this relatively. Because you can actually see the airport from my front door!
I did hear sirens and saw intervention teams pass me by 3 times on my way to school. In my head I started forming the first thing I would say when I entered the teacher’s lounge: ‘Looks like something happened, a bit too many sirens to be just a traffic accident’. But it turned out I didn’t have to say anything since I was immediately told that supposedly there had been 2 explosions at the airport. We started looking for news on press websites and social media. I read on the webite of a newspaper that in fact 2 explosions had been confirmed but no more information was known. At that time the explosions were believed to have happened in the underground train station. We opted the possibility that it was an accident.
When the bell rang we took our students to the classroom. We tried to do something productive but that quickly became impossible. The students had heard the rumours and they were scared. More ambulances and firetrucks passed the school and everybody had questions. I opened a press website on my laptop and tried to be honest in sharing information with my class.
The atmosphere was… tense, at school. Many of our students take a bus that passes through the airport or makes a stop there. Some of them even enter the airport on occasion to stop by the Starbucks. Yesterday was no different. Which means some of our students were or had been close to the departure area where the explosions had taken place. Swallow.
A lot of our students also have family or friends that work in the airport or in Brussels. Cellphones and smartphones were allowed so they could contact their family. A few students arrived at school on foot, an hour late, from the airport. You could tell by their faces that they had seen things nobody should ever see. Things nobody should even see on television. Swallow.
From my classroom window we could see people coming over the bridge on foot, dragging their luggage, desperately looking for a safe place. Needless to say my students were glued to the window. I tried as best as I could to stay calm and not to burst into tears. On a few occasions I had to swallow a serious lump in my throat when some of my class cried. I comforted, reassured, admitted that I was scared too and was glad that my daughter was home safe with my mother. I struggled, but my students were my responsibility. Swallow.
In the mean time, we were not getting much information. There were no policemen to be seen in our part of town. I can understand very well that the students did not feel entirely safe. We did try to convince them of the opposite. Not easy if you consider we had just heard that one of the people responsible for the attacks was still at large. But we were together, only together we are strong.
It quickly became apparent that a lot of parents wanted to collect their kids from school. Completely understandable. This was allowed, but controlled. Around lunchtime, about half of our students had returned home safe with their families an by 16:15 pm all our students had left the school safely. That’s all we were hoping for.
How I got through this day? Thanks to the people around me. Thanks to the students who supported each other, who reassured each other that crying and sorrow and even anger was okey. Thanks to students who appreciated my presence and my honesty. The fact that I had to stay strong for them, kept me going. But also thanks to the professional and wonderful actions of my colleagues. Everyone kept a clear head. Devoted and good people who stayed in school while their own kids were elsewhere to make sure the organisation and support of our students could go on.
It wasn’t always easy. Mountains of respect for the colleagues that were making sure the administration went smoothly and who guarded the school entrance. At one point, about twenty impatient parents were standing in front of our entrance. The police had given us very little guidelines and information so we tried to figure everything out ourselves. The parents were not allowed to enter the school and their kids were collected one by one and signed off before they could leave with their parents. Try explaining that to parents who are scared and just want their kids to be safe. Hats off for my colleagues, what a team!
Millions of hearts for the students who thanked me when I asked them if they were okey. For the expressions of gratitude and compassion I saw on their faces. Students who asked if there was anything they could do, maybe help out at the airport. It positively warmed my heart. Parents and family who offered to take other children home, since their own parents could not come and get them. Receiving a message later that night, from the parents of one of my students, thanking me for the support and kindness I showed their daughter. To me my simple obligation as a human being, but not everyone takes this for granted? Swallow.
When I finally arrived home with my daughter and Husband, I broke down for a minute. I let go of the tears I held back all day. My fear, sorrow, pain, disbelief and my anger. And that is okey. Human behaviour is okey. Inhuman behaviour, is not.
My heart bleeds for my town, the town I grew up in. My heart bleeds for our capital, for our country and for the entire world. For everyone who grows up with these things happening. But most of all, my heart bleeds for those who experience this as their daily reality. I cannot grasp that. We go on with our lives, heads held high, and we should. But we should also hold our heads high for those who cannot do it themselves. Swallow.
Many hashtags have been going around: #prayforbrussels #jesuisbruxelles #ikbenZaventem #peaceforbrussels …
On moments like these, we should not only pray and think for Brussels, or Zaventem, or Belgium, or Europe… In moments like these and every day we should be there for the world, the entire world.