I few days ago, I got this text from my daughter:
“I experienced a wonder today.”
The text came from Reykjavik, Iceland, Madeleine’s first stop on a 3-week Europe-hopping tour before she spends a quarter studying the public health system in Amsterdam.
Joe and I just concluded our own 3-month tour through seven European countries, 50ish cities and 12 airports. During that time we traveled in countless trains, planes, public buses, and cars and visited a long list of bustling public spaces — all without even a hint of trouble. Not a terrorist in sight.
And yet here I was suddenly very nervous about Maddy hitting the same road (and skies and rails). Her dad was too. As if, because she’s our child, she has a special red bullseye painted on her back.
Our anxiety wasn’t pulled out of thin air, of course. In the weeks leading up to her departure, acts of terrorism were committed in Paris, London and Stockholm — all ports on Madeleine’s itinerary. Since January there have been at least five politically-motivated acts of terrorism in Northern Ireland, where she would NOT be visiting. But her plans DID include lower Ireland right after Reykjavik. In our twisted parent logic, distant proximity equaled enough reason to panic.
Then a few days before take-off, as my daughter and I wrestled (literally) with how to stuff enough clothes for a small village into a carry-on size backpack, my worry butted heads with another, stronger feeling.
Hadn’t I just spent a quarter of a year talking to locals in England, Ireland, France about my perception of the constant anxiety and threat of terrorism they live under? And hadn’t they shown me, over and over again, the simple unheroic power and peace that comes from acceptance?
Yes, terrible things can and do happen, they told me.
And we can decide to live in spite of those possibilities.
“If we live in fear, they win. Fear wins,” a Parisian friend told me when I asked if he felt scared living in the center of a city that’s been targeted three times in as many years. “We can’t let that happen.”
At the beginning of Joe’s and my journey in January, I had serious personal safety concerns. What if the plane crashed? What if something happened to my kids while I was away? What if we were targets of hate because we’re American? What about terrorists?
What if? What if? what if?
By the end of the journey, the lesson had sunk in.
If I live in fear, fear wins. I can live in spite of it. The choice is always mine.
Now that Madeleine’s newest world trek has begun — and despite a shooting along the Champs-Elysees in Paris this week — I am at peace. My daughter is not in Paris yet. She’s safe and having a grand time in Inishmore, Ireland.
But even if she had been in Paris, even if she had been the victim of that senseless violence on April 21, I would still be glad she’d gone, that she followed her heart and refused to bow down to fear.
I would still be glad that she boarded planes that might crash, visited public sites that might be bombed, and ventured out on her own to explore, a young woman unafraid in new and exciting places.
Even if a million terrible things might happen. I would still be glad she chose to live deeply rather than die the shallow death of fear.
Because I got the most precious text from a this amazing young woman taking flight.
“I experienced a wonder today.”
It was the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa that sits in a lava field on the Reykjanes Peninsula in faraway Iceland. The lagoon is an aquamarine-hued visual treasure, not to mention a healing wonder due to it's mineral-packed waters.
She’ll remember seeing it her whole life. A beautiful wonder. And the world is so full of wonders I can’t wait for her to see.