The plan was to go to Brussels in December, right after my 28th birthday. It was supposed to be momentous, it was supposed to be inspiring. A fresh new year on this earth and a bold new perspective just waiting to be taken on. I was going to the burial place of Saint Dymphna, who you’ve definitely, definitely never heard of unless you’re one of my best friends still making fun of me for consciously choosing Dymphna as my confirmation name. She had a shamrock in her picture and I was pretty into being Irish when I was 13. Years later, my dad would inform me that she is the patron saint of the mentally ill, giving me a new-found pride and interest in my strange, Irish name.
I began doing research and found her patron city, a place called Geel in the Belgian countryside, not only had a church in her honor, but also had an unorthodox (not to mention fascinating and effective) way of treating their mentally ill. Rather than shutting them away in some sterile hospital, they live as boarders among the people of the town, in their homes. In this way, they contribute to the househould, interact with adults and children alike, and are not treated as pariahs simply because they have a mental illness. This had blown me away, I’d never heard of anything like this. And I was inspired by the simple fact that my random little confirmation namesake had been the inspiration behind it. But maybe it wasn’t all that random, what about that whole fate thing? Needless to say, I had been inspired to learn more, to research, to visit her burial site, find some inspiration for a future novel (I know, I know), it has become my Mecca.
Soooo, that was my plan. Birthday, Belgium, book research, etc.
Then, on November 13th, I was having dinner at a pub somewhere along the Hudson when the news cut across every television set to report that a terror attack had occurred in a concert venue in Paris. And as we watched in sadness and horror and pain for most of the weekend, the word “Belgium” kept popping up and “Brussels” too. I kept watching in a sort of numbed state, feeling conflicted for many, many reasons, but mostly hoping no one else had noticed how often the city I was planning to visit kept being mentioned in connection with a terrorist cell.
For weeks after, my family and friends repeatedly asked me, So, what are you going to do? And I kept responding that I didn’t know, I wasn’t sure. And then, one night, perhaps after an especially long day, my mother asked me once more what I was going to do about my trip and I started feeling panicked. My throat started to tighten up. I was walking down Metropolitan Avenue when heat started to spread across my cheeks at the idea that I might not go on this trip. I started yelling, not necessarily at my mom but moreso at the situation and at these monsters who attacked a crowd of music fans, that it wasn’t fair that they had this sick power, that this was exactly what they wanted, putting fear into the hearts of innocent people, scaring travelers away from beautiful cities like Paris and Brussels. And I shouldn’t let them win, I couldn’t! And I burst into tears on the street, overwhelmed with anguish over the predicament I was put in. Could I comfortably travel alone to this country? Would I be scared the whole time? Was that a wimpy thing to consider?
I’ll let you in on an ill-kept secret: I’m anxious. I worry. I think too far ahead, sometimes I scare myself out of things.
I cancelled my trip and rebooked it, not without a heinous change fee, and planned to head to Brussels (and Bruges! And Geel! Such plans!) in May. Everything happens for a reason, they say. And I kept running with this idea. I got very intensely drunk on my birthday in the absence of Belgian waffles and beer and woke up the following morning thinking, Luckily that trip got cancelled because this hangover would not have flown well. I also would have missed New Year’s in Brooklyn, and instead I had a party with some of my best and closest friends, danced the night away at my favorite bar, and I shared a first kiss with someone new. Silver linings, right? Right.
I take you now to March 22nd, where I woke up to the news that Brussels airport had been the target of a terror attack. Following the news, a number of text messages came through, checking in: Did you see the news? Yes, I saw the news. What are you going to do? I don’t know.
I know this sounds like Groundhog Day, and it didn’t feel far off. I had the same cycle of confused feelings. I should just go! I’m going!… Maybe I shouldn’t go! Along with these feelings, the airport had been shut down for nearly a month for forensic investigations. I mean, it was the site of a terror attack. My brain was going bonkers and I just didn’t quite know what to do with it all. When I called the airline to see what my options were for once again postponing my trip, the customer service rep made a comment like, Maybe you shouldn’t travel anywhere if this keeps happening. Making the suggestion I might be the jinx causing all of these catastrophic events which sounds terrible, probably, but I had considered the same thing.
So it took several weeks of talking to the airline, spending hours in the kitchen at work looking so distraught my coworkers asked if I was okay. And I was okay, in the general sense, but I was beginning to feel defeated, too. I considered alternatives; changing my flight to some other far-flung country and hoping this jinx I might have (or be?) wouldn’t hurt whichever destination I chose.
But here is where I will remind you of that secret: I’m anxious. I worry about terrorism (insofar as on a regular LIRR train ride I’ll stare at an “abandoned” bag in my car and spend the entire ride considering how I can save myself and this train full of people from this very clear and obvious bomb, only to realize it is very much a non-bomb gym bag and the dude it belongs to just got off the train with it) and I worry about the money in my bank account, I worry about things beyond my control more often than I should, for prolonged periods of time. Everyone who told me I should go anyway was right. More right than I care to admit, because we are only young once and if I were to die on this soul-inspiring trek to Belgium then so be it, right? What’s the sense in living in fear? There isn’t any sense in it at all. And yet…
I had been scheduled to depart for Brussels on the evening of May 11th, and my Google calendar made no attempt to hide me from this sad reality, mostly because I had failed to delete my travel plans once they had been changed. Instead of an evening flight out of JFK, on May 11th, I was halfway through my two weeks notice, on the precipice of a new adventure. I was halfway through saying my goodbyes to all of the people I’ve worked with for the last two years so that I could move on to the next great step in my life.
So it’s not Belgium, it’s exit interviews. It’s not Dymphna, it’s funemployment. It’s momentous and inspiring in its own way, as new jobs tend to be, and there’s a good chance it might have never happened if I were in Belgium right now. Silver linings, right? Right.
(I’ll get there. It’s my Mecca.)