During my year in London, I met the most incredible people from every country, race, creed, and age you can imagine. Unlike any other time in my life, I feel as though each person was sent to me for a very specific reason. It’s as though I can picture every face I met and specifically name how they affected my future.
There was the little old man who hobbled up and down Portobello Road with a Jack Russell on his shoulders. He brought me comforts from home: the reminders of my grandfather in his little Irish cap, the playful sparring of bar regulars, and the fuzzy ears of a Jack, my family’s preferred pet choice. (Theories abound as to why…)
There was the anesthesiologist who held my hand during a surgery. The medicine he gave me had made me extremely emotional (What- ME? Emotional?) and he stood by my side, stroking my hand throughout the surgery and into recovery until I had calmed down. He taught me that care-giving is about caring for a patient wholly and completely, not about collecting a paycheck.
There was the playwright who looked directly at me in a master class, using me as an example for a trusting audience member. He taught me that there is no good way to write a play, there’s only your way.
And then there are the handful of women who not only held my hand during a surgery or provided the comforts of home, but changed my life forever. The American girls who, like me, attacked everything with our Type A, overachiever personalities. The Canadian scholar who always set the benchmark for how far we all could go. The Portuguese Harry Potter lover who threw us a weekend-long slumber party and movie marathon. The two Hollys who, with British slang only they could understand, were always good for a laugh, a dance, or a pint. The list goes ever on…
Most of my days were spent with three others, a motley crew pieced together in only ways The Universe knew how. Me, the tough-and-broken Philadelphian in a perpetual battle between euphoric happiness and lack of confidence self-sabotage. The brunette, supermodel-looking ex-pat, now New Yorker, who will stand beside me on my wedding day. The Scandinavian beauty who radiated light and purity from her large, doe-like eyes.
And then there was Serra.
Occasionally Serra and I would have grand adventures – ice skating at the Natural History Museum, sitting in tents on a rooftop in December, or climbing the steps to Cardiff Castle – but mostly, Serra and I were often found eating burritos on Tuesdays, walking to and from class, or sitting side by side during a lecture.
We were an odd pair, coursing along the cobblestones and paved walkways of Bloomsbury. I stood between 5’7″ and 5’8″, short, blonde hair bobbing over a bright green coat, long legs powering me quickly to the Tube. My pale skin made ever paler due to the London fog. She stood barely 5′, with olive skin and dark hair that cascaded down to her bottom, usually clad in black. Her legs were smaller and due to her clumsy nature, often tripped her up, sprawling her on the sidewalk at my feet.
She made me laugh, walking into a broom closet because a boy made her nervous or posting Tweets such as: “My celebrity crushes always start with ‘Who the hell is this?’ and always turn into ‘That’s his right nostril I can tell’” or “How do people just have casual intercourse with random strangers? I can’t even order pizza over the phone.”
And so, we became friends. We became friends the way a leaf does with a breeze, because together we danced. We soared. We made each other’s life a little more beautiful.
I never asked her what her religion was or, if I did, it wasn’t something I made a note of. It never mattered to me what type of God she believed in or whether or not she subscribed to a particular afterlife. It didn’t make any difference in the knowing. She was she and I was I and together we were unstoppable.
It hurts me to think that five years later, my friend is scared to live in her own home.
Serra is from Istanbul, Turkey, a city so many know only because of that damn song with its cartoon camels and ducks. In the past year, Turkey has experienced numerous terrorist bombings and attacks with deadly consequences.
Four people were killed yesterday, March 19, 2016. 35 more killed earlier in the month due to a bombing at a major transport hub. 29 people were killed on February 17 of this year while another 12 were killed in January. More than 100 people were killed in a massive double bombing outside an Ankara railway station in October 2015.
Over 180 dead in less than a year and now today, as Serra and I prepared ourselves for a long overdue Skype date, she informed me that a soccer/football match was postponed due to more bombs found within the stadium. A stadium that can host over 52,000 participants.
52,000 souls that could have been lost, if not for the stadium security.
This huge world event has affected so many. In less than a year, it has caused the death of almost 200 people. In addition, it has disrupted and placed fear in the daily lives of 18.5 million people in Istanbul and Ankara.
My Twitter feed and Facebook are without “je suis Turkey” posts or profile pictures in remembrance of the 180+ lives lost. American news programs were silent yesterday morning, following the suicide bombing on the 19th. There is no mention of Turkey on CNN’s front page. I guess there’s not enough room, what with these current headlines: “Scott Baio is trending,” “Your selfies can go from phone to foam,” and “Sad grandpa tweet makes internet weep.” (No, sadly, none of these were made up.)
It’s easy for us to think of Turkey as a foreign, non-people. They’re typically Muslim, for one, and if Donald Trump and his followers are any indication, Americans don’t like (or understand) the Muslim religion. In addition, there’s an “over there” quality to everything that is happening. A “that’s sad, but my life is here and now and worth more attention than someone thousands of miles away” mentality.
And yet before I continue, I need to stop, because I know that grand generalizations and finger pointing get us nowhere. Standing on a pedestal and saying that I am right because I care is not going to open any eyes, it’s not going to win this war on fear and terrorism.
It’s not going to keep my friend safe.
To be honest, I don’t know what will. I don’t know that if sharing with you what her friendship has meant to me will open a chink in your heart for empathy, but I pray it does. I don’t know that by describing her laugh or her huge heart will make you curious to know more, but I hope it does.
If the little man on Portobello Road entered my life to give me comfort and the playwright spoke to me to reignite my creative passion, then perhaps Serra entered my life so that I may talk about her. That I can tell you about the time she bought me a bracelet to ward off the Evil Eye and now, five years later, I am only trying to do the same for her: to protect her, to let her know she’s loved, to ease her suffering. And, perhaps, in talking about her, that it may open your hearts to her and her people as well.
To end this violence, we need to see the humanity in those we consider Others and we can’t do that until we know their story. So, please… for Serra, for Istanbul, for Turkey, for the world – learn their stories. Share them. Find the similarities. Celebrate the differences. Talk about those things that make us human and treasure them.