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The One Image from the Brussels Attacks I Can’t Get Out of My Head

As the events yesterday morning in Brussels continue to weigh heavy on my mind, I can’t help but think of the plane that my four children and I will be boarding ourselves later this evening. While I pack, I listen to the television recaps and hear blips of conversation and reports from eye witnesses. “Sheer destruction.” “Slim chance.” “People standing in line at Starbucks.”

I freeze at that last, seemingly irrelevant detail, and I pause as I scan the TV screen. A litany of photos continue to rotate, showing real-time views of the terrorist attack that killed over 30 and wounded hundreds more. And all while people were treating themselves to a cup of coffee.

I think to myself, It could have been any of us.

And then, among the many photos rotating before me, there’s one that keeps flashing and catches my eye. It shows an abandoned section of the airport, right near where the bomb went off. Debris is scattered around; suitcases lay left behind. And close to the foreground, a tiny abandoned stroller sits; empty. 

My careful scrutiny reveals it to be likely a Maclaren umbrella stroller. I imagine that until just a few hours ago, it was used to house a wriggly toddler much like my own son, who has bucked and yelped to free himself many times as I’ve stood in line at the airport Starbucks. I’m sure this very evening, I will probably want to repeat the same familiar process of my own airport routine: Treating myself to Starbucks after successfully getting all four kids through tight security. Each time we make it through, I know that a pricey (but worth it) chai tea is waiting for me on the other side of the terminal.

But what would I be thinking of tonight? 

I imagine I’ll be thinking of the unseen mother in the photograph, who must have let her little person get out, either moments before or moments after the blast. Maybe holding him was enough to placate the long wait in line. Or maybe he was content with the bag of Skinny Pop she opened and handed over. A necessary concession for her own survival.

Maybe there was an older child with her, who was looking embarrassed and visibly nervous while observing the wild bucking and screeching of his younger sister or brother. Glancing around, he may have been biting his nails like my own older son, pausing only to pick up a small toy now flung from the stroller occupant.

Was her toddler perfectly content and only scared when the first blast sounded by his sensitive ears? Had she virtually ripped him from the five-point harness, as she gathered the other children who had stood impatiently waiting for their bagels? From the photo, I can see the stroller was covered in a sheet of fine white powder, but virtually untouched other than that evidence of sudden terror. It was just sitting there; lonely. Left behind in a line near Starbucks.

Today, I’ll say a prayer for the people in my lives and the children that have been entrusted to me. I’ll say a prayer for that mother or father or grandparent who was working to keep their child or children safe — safe from getting lost, safe from strangers, and even safe from those fast-moving vehicles that zip through the airport.

It wasn’t enough.

This one photo, more than all the rest, reminds me yet again of how vulnerable we all are in mind, body, and spirit — especially the youngest and smallest among us. 

Tonight, I will venture to the airport as the lone parent with four children. I will bravely navigate the long security lines and try to placate my own little Amos, who will indicate his unhappiness loudly from his stroller. I’ll try to hold back the lump in my throat and keep the tears at bay that are already threatening to spill. I’ll think of what and if I should say to my children about what happened in Brussels today.

I’ll push my stroller and drink my tea and I’ll remember to be thankful.

Article Posted 3 years Ago
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