Yesterday a tragedy happened in the area of the States that I consider my U.S. home: a shooting at the Columbia Mall in Maryland.
My heart stopped when the report came in over NRK TV. “Maryland? The Columbia Mall?! That’s MY Mall.”
My thoughts raced backwards through time, touching on different emotional moments that happened there: I was sitting in the food court the morning my parents were scheduled to fly in for Jan’s and my wedding; my cell phone rang, and it was my Mom, tearfully saying that she was dreadfully ill and couldn’t get on the plane (which, seeing my Dad walking out of the plane alone a few hours later, was the intense foreshadow of losing my Mom two years later) … My husband and I bought our wedding rings at a jewelry store there … I had my cherished “generations of love” ring made at that same jewelry store … I spent many hours picking out the perfect gift for a loved one at that Mall … My girls and I were there together frequently, shopping and then sitting together at the food court for a break and conversation … The Columbia Mall is at the center of the sprawling Columbia community, and as such represents an outside-of-the-home emotional center for my family as David and I raised our girls.
But those are memories. When I first heard the news yesterday, the most piercing-to-my-heart moment was the reality that my youngest daughter, Amy, often goes to the Columbia Mall *now* as it’s close to her workplace.
I was relieved to get a message from her, responding to my worried text to her. And as I checked the news over the coming hours after the initial reports, it seemed the shooter wasn’t still at large. My heart hurts for the families of those affected … but it could have been so much worse.
That tragedy brings up another one that happened earlier this week, this one here in my adopted country. It was of a different nature – Lærdal had a disastrous fire. I’ve visited there twice – the first time was during my first visit to Norway in 2006, the second was in 2009 during Abby’s first visit here. I’m still feeling a little lonely after the end of her two week visit, and so the emotions of travel with her and a devastating fire in one of the places we visited together really hit me.
But more than my reaction to this, it’s difficult to express to those who don’t live in this country of only five million people (or understand the background and spirit of the smaller communities that are isolated by the mountainous geography) just how devastating this fire was.
As this page from Visit Norway says,
Late in the evening of 18 January 2014, a fire was reported to have started in a house in Kyrkjegata in the center of Lærdal. Due to strong winds the fire spread quickly, and five hours later 35 houses were burned to the ground, six or seven of them of historical value. One of these were Synneva Eris’ House, a protected building from 1840. Another protected building, the old school house, was also destroyed in the fire. There were no loss of life, although more than 400 people were brought to hospital for examination and approximately 100 people wre treated for various degrees of smoke inhalation.
In the United States, a country of almost 314 million people (the Baltimore-Washington area itself – where the Columbia Mall is located – has about 15 million people), a fire such as this would make the news and there would be an outpouring of help and concern. But I think it’s impossible for the average person in a country with that large of a population to feel the same as the five million Norwegians do about this fire and its aftermath. Although I wanted to write about it earlier this week after it happened, I didn’t think I had the words to express the emotions.
I still don’t. But my reaction to yesterday’s shooting at the Columbia Mall – awful, and it’s personal! – compared to how I have felt when reading of the other shootings, fires, and tragedies in the U.S. – awful, but I don’t know that area so it doesn’t affect me quite as personally – gives me the perspective to better understand it, and a few words to better express it.
The people of Northern Norway are a thousand miles away from Lærdal and most have probably never been there … but the history, culture, and community of the country mean they are as personally affected and concerned as those that live in that area and truly have a more personal connection.
I could go into thoughts about the terrible shooting here in 2011, as that has a more direct comparision to yesterday’s shooting at the Columbia Mall, but I *know* I don’t have the words to express my emotions about that. (It happened the day before I was scheduled to fly back to Norway after a visit to the States, and all I could think about was getting home to Bergen and Jan and being with him as he and his fellow Norwegians processed that senseless day.)
Plus, that would start to delve into politics – and I try very hard to keep politics out of my blog. I have strong opinions, but this blog isn’t the place I want to express them.
But with politics as well as with tragedies, this expat and U.S. citizen reacts to all things around her with emotions … and that’s what I’m experiencing now. That is the only authentic response I can offer. These thoughts are all over the emotional map, but that’s appropriate for me.
My heart hurts for both areas, and especially for the families of those affected. Stay safe, my blogosphere connections, wherever in the world your heart, emotions, and physical presence have taken you.