Every morning for the past few weeks I wake up and check my phone for the weather in Stockholm. We leave in a few days and sometimes, if I catch the iPhone weather just right, a snowflake appears in the 7-day forecast. The idea of seeing snowflakes in Sweden has made me very excited to pack every hand knit item I own.
Living in Los Angeles offers a lot of variety — but not much in the way of weather!
This morning I got up and checked my phone and the lock screen was full of news alerts about a terrorist attack in the pedestrian shopping area of downtown Stockholm. My heart dropped. There are people today whose lives were forever altered. I can’t imagine what they must be going through. It feels frustrating, too, not knowing the right thing to do or to say.
Later, as the news spread about the event, a few people at work began to ask me: Are you still going? Will you change your plans? Do you think it’s safe? It felt a shade too close to my time in Paris in 2015. The answer is: Yes. I will be going to Stockholm.
There are two ways to look at this choice. One is practical — Stockholm will be in a state of heightened alert, and so this is probably an even safer time than usual to visit. The police will be more heavily deployed, checks will be more stringent, citizens will be more aware, alert.
But the real reason I choose to go is philosophical: I don’t want fear to run my life. And the best way to show support and love for another free and open society is to show up and spend money in the economy and meet folks and have conversation and be willing and open.
It’s a very personal decision and if you chose differently I wouldn’t judge you one bit. Last summer, the Captain and I booked a cabin in Big Sur for our first ever couple bubble trip together. A week before our vacation, a huge wildfire broke out in Big Sur and by the time our vacation neared, the fire was still only about 10% contained. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the night worried that a shift in the wind might drive the fire closer to our cabin. The anxiety about evacuating on unfamiliar roads in a remote part of the coast made me too nervous. We changed our trip to stay 100 miles south of the fire zone. I don’t regret changing my plans, and I would never judge you for changing yours.
Vacation is treasured time. Most of us Americans only get a week, maybe two, and have to save up our pennies for the pleasure. How you choose to spend that time is nobody’s business but your own! There is no scoreboard at the end of all this counting up your brave moments. And I have never found that living by someone else’s values or choices has made me happy.
In 2014 and 2015, I started to travel to Paris more frequently and began leaning into living there (at least part time, to start.) In November of 2015, during the hours following the cafe terror attacks, I was scheduled to board a plane headed for Charles DeGaulle at the same time flights were being grounded. The American news was filled with 24-hour coverage of horror stories from the terror attacks happening in neighborhoods not far from my French apartment. Lots of folks at work (and online) urged me not to go. They weren’t alone — some hotels reported vacancy rates of 80% in the days and weeks after the attacks. People were scared and had every right to be, it was a horrible series of events.
I packed my bags and showed up at the airport anyway, not knowing what would happen. I flew to Paris that day on a plane that was well over half empty, arrived to a militarized version of the airport, and hugged my friend waiting for me at the gate like a long lost sibling. I am not a brave person. I was scared. I just love Paris and I couldn’t stand to be away from the city I think of as my home away from home. Maybe I was in denial, maybe it was too much to think through rationally, maybe maybe maybe. I’m not sure what I was thinking.
Those few weeks in the city were somber and I had moments where I was completely scared. The terraces were empty. There was a fear hanging over us that I had never felt before. One night out alone on a cafe terrace I saw some men gathering near a taxi stand and I gathered up my things and bolted. I have never before or since done anything like that.
But I do not regret going. It was on that trip that I realized we are all in this together. Living in Los Angeles, or Paris, or Oklahoma City, or New York or Stockholm … we are all just folks. Each place is home to other men and women and kids and dogs and cats and coffee shops and daily life. During that November stay in Paris, I had more warm conversations and connections with Parisians (both friends and strangers) than ever before. There was solidarity in simply being present — just to listen, hear someone’s story, share a cup of coffee. It felt good to spend money in cafes that rely upon tourism when you could see the streets and restaurants and shops were eerily empty. I jogged past the tower and saw nothing but army patrols and I felt this wave of love for Paris like never before. That was a difficult time to be in Paris and I will always be glad I was there. But yeah, I was scared at times.
Fear is a tricky thing, and I’m not a very brave person. It wouldn’t take much for me to become a shut-in. It’s an odd paradox, but for a crazy tourist I am also a terrible homebody. There is a part of me that knows I travel just to keep myself from my own worst hermit tendencies. It’s my personal form of constant exposure therapy. And it’s working! The more I travel, the less scared I am. The more I see how alike we all are, us human beings. We all face challenges and problems, and somehow humans keep going. It’s a remarkable act of faith.
So I’m excited to go to Stockholm next week. I hope to meet people, and learn about the city, and practice my Duolingo-Swedish. I hope it snows (a little). I hope I can show that I believe in Stockholm, and believe in the innate goodness of people. And most of all I believe in living our lives the best we can, driven by hope instead of fear.