Since I moved to Belgium in 2011 there have been so many instances where news out of the U.S. rocked me and made me feel, as an American expat, so incredibly far away from U.S. soil. On an average day I don’t think about the fact that I’m thousands of miles from America, at all, because life gets so busy. But on days like today, or this past Monday, and every day this past week my reality is checked.
National news coverage here, and in most of Europe, is excellent but dry. “Dry” is not bad, it just means there’s more facts reporting and less sensationalism. I’ve said time and time again what a very moderately-tempered grounded people Belgians are, give or take a few football melees or union protests.
I remember that day in 2011 when Osama Bin Laden was killed I’d felt for one of the first times, so far away from America. I’d caught the news via Twitter and then hurried out of the house that morning to get to school, where I was taking my first level of Dutch. I’d rushed into the cafeteria when I got there and found the only other American expat in the school. He was black and gay, and my silver lining around the cloud of Dutch vocabulary lists in class every day. I’d blurted out the news to him with a few omgs scattered about and wanting to, well, celebrate. I was hushed immediately.
I’d blinked, mouth hanging open, because being hushed is not something that happens to me. But in that blink I realized that there was no usual “buzz” in the cafeteria. A hush had fallen over the room.
Most of the students enrolled with me in the language school were not happy that Osama was dead. The school was government-funded and free for “legal” immigrants. So? Belgium, like other EU countries, provides open asylum for those who have left their respective countries to avoid “serious harm.” Translation? I was outnumbered by thousands of more immigrants, here, who did not celebrate Osama’s death. Nor would they have celebrated it if they were back in their homelands.
I remember having felt like the oddest man out, and how quiet I’d been all through Dutch lessons that day. I’d come face-to-face with my naivety. It had felt surreal being in a building with people who mourned on a day I wanted to rejoice.
I know I am lucky I did not lose my life or the life of anyone close to me on September 11th. When 1 World Trade Center was hit I was underground riding what was the last running 6 train for that day, and I was ignorant to the fact that above ground was terrifying chaos. So for me, nearly ten years after 9/11, Osama’s death was something I felt I had the right to celebrate along with others.
I went home and threw a good old American barbecue with my husband Davy. We celebrated together privately (and on Twitter). We ate burgers and potato salad and watched CNN. Sometimes, sensationalism is comic relief enough to be relevant.
In the time I’ve been living here, just over two years, I’ve watched from afar the havoc Superstorm Sandy wreaked and learned of all the lives lost in Colorado and Sandy Hook. Good news and bad news alike from parts of America I’ve followed. I don’t know that I’d be doing anything differently if I was in America right this minute, but I know that from here I’m still watching and feeling so many same things everyone else is during certain moments of the day.