The rest of the good-bad-good sandwich

On the other side of the world, in faraway Bangladesh, another illusion of safety got shattered. I know Gulshan, where the hostage standoff and then massacre occurred, a bit. I have spent many days and nights there, going back decades. We have a project in Dhaka and friends from long ago. The tape that plays through my head is familiar. It played through my head when La Taverna in Lebanon got blown up, only three days after I ate there. The contrast between the quiet and genteel ‘before’ and the violent ‘after’ is hard to accept.

Sometimes people ask me, “Aren’t you afraid? The places you go could be targets!” Yes, they could, and in the moment I do have this sense of vulnerability, and the thought ‘I could have been there,’ crosses my mind. But I also have a statistician in my head who says (in Dutch): ‘kullekoek,” which means something like ‘nonsense.’

When things like this happen and we are once again reminded that ours is a dangerous world, I have to remember that today it is not more dangerous than any time in the past, probably even less so. People who want to go back to the olden days do not know what they are asking for. The olden days may have been good for some but for most people they were not good, only old.

When Axel and I lived in Lebanon during those turbulent times, we had a Palestinian friend who was an official in the Palestinian resistance. He gave me a keychain with a small wooden vase dangling on it, “from an old Palestinian olive tree,” he told me; although I don’t know where the physical object is anymore, the image is engraved in my memory and reminds me of him.

His people were being targeted and blown up regularly. I asked him once, “Aren’t you afraid you will be next?” I will never forget his answer: “as long as I live it is not my time yet and I have work to do. When my task in this world is completed, not for me to know, then I will go.” It’s a kind of comforting philosophy and I have adopted it. I have combined it with a Nigerian saying, a colleague taught me decades ago: “When you worry you go die. When you don’t worry you go die. Why worry?” And, as Mark Rylance playing Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies says, “if I worry, would it make any difference?” I am not done yet with my task and see no point in worrying.

And finally, to complete the good-bad-good sandwich, something wonderful happened in between the other side of the world and this side of the world, not so faraway Tilburg: my niece brought a hefty little boy into the world, promoting my youngest brother to being a grandfather (opa), which is of course the best possible role one could ever aspire to play.

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