I have a distinct memory of growing up and visiting Estonia with my family for a week, a week of Tallinn: worn cobblestones, medieval buildings, and crisp spring air. To me, Tallinn has always been what I considered a second home growing up, where people spoke my mother tongue and where exploring town was still a major adventure and something different from where I lived in Sweden. A week later, the so-called "Bronze Night" broke out. Due to an argument about whether or not to move a bronze statue from one of the World Wars, the Russian minority rose up in anger and spent a week protesting around the city. I was eight years old, and based on the televised news reports shown in my living room, newspaper announcements posted in the local convenience store, and the worry apparent in my classmates, I felt like foreign affairs and real life had never seemed closer. From the safety of my home, I saw the same streets I had walked a week earlier crowded with angry mobs, boutique windows being smashed, and reporters being hit by angry demonstrators.
Last night, the same thing that keeps happening whenever I see new reports on TV or receive random app notifications on my phone happened: a part of my heart shattered. I spent my Friday night as any other university student does: with friends and flatmates I love, celebrating the freedom of the weekend and having passed yet another week. I was walking up the stairs to wave goodbye to a friend who was leaving early, and two minutes later I was faced with messages and push notifications. My mom messaged me, "have you seen what is going on in Paris?", which is a rather odd message to receive from my mom in Sweden at 1AM. Continuously rising death counts and terrorism events filled my phone screen. In shock, I stared at my phone, scrolling down, opening up new tabs and apps, desperately trying to understand what was going on meanwhile Facebook kept giving me push notifications about French friends marking themselves as 'safe from the Paris Terrorist Attacks.' My heart was sinking. Paris is such a beautiful city, wherein I spent hours strolling around its vintage and antique markets, paid fortunes for bad coffee at Champs Elysees, and tried my best to not let the language barrier and French pride get to my head. A bouncer came by and tapped me on the shoulder. I was standing on the corner of the stairs, seeing neon lights blink in different colors while strangers kissed on the dance floor and people left for the smoking area upstairs. "Are you French?", he asked. Confused, as I only had stood there in silence scrolling on my phone, not having spoken a word in my Americanized-Swedish accent to anyone, I asked, "no, why?" He gave a nod towards my phone and said, "because all of the French people have carried the same look on their face as you tonight." I did not know what to say, maybe he didn't know. "There's been one of the biggest terrorist attacks in Europe tonight -- in Paris," I tried to explain. He shook his head and said, "I know," and then walked away.
Parisians fill the Place de la République to pay their respects. Getty Images
The other day I sat in the kitchen with a friend, explaining how my concept of home is vastly different than his. I have spent more consecutive time living in the U.S and Japan than in Sweden, where I grew up, during the last years of my life. After studying in England for a year, I am about to set out into the world again for a year in another, unknown, destination. My Estonian parents might move back to Estonia, meaning the town I grew up with as a core part of my identity in Sweden would have no attachment left for me to return to, and moving back to Estonia as an Estonian does not feel like an option to me. Instead, my heart aches a bit every time there is a mentioning of events in streets I have walked in, where people I know live, where I used to live, where friends' families are located, whether it be in Paris, Gaza, or a flooded city in Japan.
Walking downstairs to the dance floor I tried to remain in a good mode, to keep dancing and to keep the night going. Instead I went back to the coatroom and grabbed the black velvet sequin jacket that I had purchased from a vintage store less than a week ago, and had handed in as it was too warm for this room. With the jacket on I felt less cold than I did the minute before, and I danced and looked at the people around me. So many smiles and so much laughter took place under neon lights and tacky music from 2008. At one moment an unexpected surge of gratefulness hit me; so many of the people I care about were on the dance floor here, smiling and laughing in complete safety, utterly oblivious to the night's events across Europe. Later that night, after long bargaining sessions with different taxi drivers, we ended up at the university campus. My friend turned to me and asked, "are you going to be ok?" I nodded and said, "yeah, sure, don't worry," but 5 minutes after staying in my room and having opened up various news apps, I called her and asked if I could have a sleep over there instead.
That night I feel asleep at 3am to the sound of my London friend discussing her everyday life with me and cramming in a few laughs every now and then, fully in safety and hundreds of miles away from the hectic streets of Paris. My last thought before dozing off was about how many other people like me there must be out there in the world; French people whose hearts ached when watching the news overseas tonight, Iraqis getting stomach aches when seeing Baghdad bombed on television, and Somalis shaking their heads when hearing about new terrorist events close to their villages. Simply put, people to whom certain events, although far away, hurt a little more than they should.
THINK Global School graduate