This post should be about the wonderful two weeks I’ve just spent in Istanbul. This post should be full of beautiful pictures from a beautiful city. But that post is going to have to wait. Instead, I’m writing about not only the dark side of travel but the dark side of life.
I’m sure for many of you this will be the first you’ve heard about this incident, which is a referendum on the state of the news in today’s world, but that’s also another post for another day.
On Sunday afternoon, November 13th, on Istiklal Street, one of the busiest and most important streets in the heart of Istanbul, there was a terror attack and a bomb exploded. As of this writing, six people are dead and over 80 others are injured.
I’m writing about this because I was there when it happened and I want to document all parts of my journey. I was walking on Istiklal, having one last stroll through the city before departing for a new location the following morning.
It was a glorious autumn afternoon. The fall colors were on full display throughout the city. The sun had that wonderful late afternoon glow and warmth that only happens in the autumn.
When the bomb exploded I was less than 150 feet past the explosion area. The blast was strong enough that it almost knocked me off my feet. That means I was within 60 seconds of being critically injured, or worse … dying. I am one of the lucky ones.
There was this insanely surreal moment in the seconds after the blast when people just kind of stood around. Everything was bright, the world was silent and my heart was beating out of my chest. There was a scream, and then everyone just started running. Chaos and pandemonium ensued.
I was so disoriented that I literally just stood there. People were running everywhere. I felt someone tugging on my shirt, pulling me behind a car or cart … honestly I have no idea, but I’m thankful for that person. They were thinking about the safety of someone they didn’t even know.
This is not an “OMG, look at me” post. This is definitely not a thoughts and prayers post. It’s simply a way for me to acknowledge and, ultimately, begin to process what the fuck just happened.
This is not a post about whether Istanbul (and Türkiye) are safe or not (they are). Terror happens everywhere. Sadly, it happens almost every day in the US. So don’t point a finger and say, “See I told you it wasn’t safe to travel to these places.” That’s bullshit. That’s what these assholes want.
In the last nine months, I’ve been to a lot of places. Each one has been unique and different. But what I’ve noticed, are a lot more similarities. At our core, we are all the same … humans. Turks, Americans, Italians, Albanians. We are more the same than you might think or want to admit. We are all going through our lives, just trying to make it all make sense.
I have encountered nothing but kindness from all the people I’ve met on this journey. I’ve had people walk me to a destination when I’ve simply asked for directions. I’ve had deep, meaningful conversations with complete strangers.
And last night, as I was sitting in a random family-run restaurant, I saw the first images of the person who perpetrated this heinous attack flash across the TV screen. I was overcome with emotion and began to weep. When I pulled myself together, I asked the daughter, who spoke barely any English if she could tell me what they were saying on the news. I shared my story of the event and showed them the videos I have from the moments following the explosion.
This entire family came to my table to place their hands on my shoulders. To let me know it was going to be ok. To show love and compassion for a random foreigner. They even tried to give me my dinner for free, but I declined … and tipped extra big when I left. I will never forget these people. These people whose names I do not know.
It’s in these moments I know I’m on the right path. Much like my time in Santiago de Compostela, after the passport incident, I’ve landed in a place that will help me heal. And again, just like before, I’ve not once wavered in my desire to keep going.
I’ve relived the moment a million times while writing this. I think about all the little things. How I was fiddling with my headphones in the moments before the blast. How I didn’t know if I should go back to my hostel or just keep walking down to the water for sunset. But I wanted to write it. I needed to write it. To put words to my thoughts and emotions.
This is how I will continue to learn and grow. How I will find strength in adversity. How I will find love in the heart of darkness. This is the way.
The more I think about it, the more I think this is a post about thoughts and prayers. I will forever think about the people of Istanbul and I will forever pray for them. I will pray for us all. Because we are all the same. We are one. One love.