On Monday afternoon, I was one of the many receiving concerned messages from friends and loved ones inquiring if I was okay, mainly from those who forgot I was as far away from the incident as I could be. While I reminisced eerily with my friends about how we were at that exact spot at exactly the same time last year, I was nowhere near the Boston Marathon finish line this time around, because at the moment, I am in another country.
The news came to me around 9:00 p.m. our time, via a text from a fellow BC student also in Paris. Unlike the citizens of Boston scrambling to contact their friends over dead cell towers, our phones worked just fine. When I woke up the next morning, it was like any other day in this marvelous city. People scowled on the metro, but not because they were sad about Boston. People ate their baguettes, but not because they were eating their feelings. I dragged myself to school with an ugly weight inside of me, a hairball of sadness and confusion and most of all, longing.
I longed to be home, if not for the usual reasons (late night food, my mom, bureaucratic efficiency), but because I just needed to be there. I longed to put an arm around my friends, just as scared as anyone else, but supporting each other nonetheless. I longed to feel the silence and solidarity that weaved through the town hours after this heinous attack. I longed to look at a stranger on the T and know that we were dealing with the same thing.
And that is when I realized how terrible it is to be away in a crisis. When we choose to study abroad for a semester, a small, if morbid part of us hopes that nothing will happen that will leave us frantically arranging for a flight home. A tiny, invisible sliver of dread inside prays that there will be no sudden deaths in the family while you are overseas. Because at that point, on the verge of tragedy, and sitting at a computer watching horrific live streams 3,000 miles away, the only feeling that sets in is helplessness.
What can you do but message your friends and ask what’s going on, or post a thoughtful Facebook status? I do not necessarily see my friends from BC here in Paris on a daily basis, because that is the nature of studying abroad, so I dealt with it physically alone. Of course, there are resources here graciously available to those who need them, and even some of my French friends reached out to show their support (not to mention the constant stream of conversation with loved ones in the States).
In moments like these, our distance from home is made painfully clear. On a daily basis, a twinge of homesickness is a small price to pay for a life-altering six months. However, at the beginning of the day on Monday, all we “abroad kids” wanted desperately to be in Boston for different reasons, mainly, to indulge in the infamous festivities and the joyous spirit of Marathon Monday (or as one of my friends put it, “the happiest day of the year”).
I think I can speak for all my BC peers currently in other countries when I say that for that moment, watching the bombs explode over and over, my heart hurts. I needed the strong, beautiful city I’ve called my second home for the past three years. At that moment, I wanted nothing more than to trade my semi-glamorous life of pastries and cobble-stoned cafes for a stuffy BC dorm room and a crowd of kids wearing colorful tank tops on Heartbreak Hill.