It was the first day that was longer than the night. Yesterday it counted 11 hours, 59 minutes and 12 seconds. Today the sun rose at 6.58 and set at 19.00. I watched it appear. Then read Rebecca Solnit. “I am, we each are, the inmost of an endless series of Russian dolls; you who read are now encased within a layer I built for you, or perhaps my stories are now inside you. We live as literally as that inside other’s thoughts and work, in this world that is being made all the time, by all of us, out of beliefs and acts, information and materials. Even in the wilderness your ideas of what is beautiful, what matters, and what constitutes pleasure shape your journey there as much as do your shoes and map also made by others.” Then I went for coffee.
A young man asked me if he could join me at my table. All the other tables were occupied by couples and families. Apart from that, my table got more sun than the others so it was the best spot. Of course, I said, si claro. I was deep in my book and he was distracted by his phone so we didn’t exchange more than a few words. When the old man who asks for money for a coffee every morning did his usual round, he gave him some coins. I ordered a second coffee and he finished his, said goodbye and left. When I walked into the bar later to pay my bill, it was payed for already. A small act of kindness that made my morning.
I walked home smiling and still was when I opened my computer and read the newspaper. Breaking news. A man in Utrecht had opened fire in a tram and fled. I tried to get more information but it had just happened and as always the word “terrorism” was doing the rounds already. I checked in with a friend whom I knew was working in Utrecht today. He hadn’t heard the news yet. It is amazing how three countries away or even at the other side of the world you can know what people who are in the middle of something aren’t aware of yet.
I kept an eye on the news. Three people had been killed. Nine were seriously injured, later this number got corrected to five. The mayor of Utrecht said they assumed it was a terroristic attack. I had my doubts. The political meetings and public debate that had been planned because of the upcoming elections were cancelled. Only the Forum for Democracy decided to stick to their public campagne meeting and declared that the immigration policy of the other political parties was to blame. Their leader, Thierry Baudet, said that if in the upcoming elections, this Wednesday, people wouldn’t take this into consideration, these kind of attacks would happen more regularly in the Netherlands. The media showed an interview with a former colleague of the shooter who was still on the run but identified as a 37 year old Turkish man. He said that he used to be a normal guy but the last time he saw him he had a long beard and talked about religion. A journalist on site tried to get a shot of a hearse and this image popped up again and again in the news afterwards. I didn’t understand why that was necessary. At the same time facts about the shooters history were made public. Since 2012 he was a suspect in 9 different cases. He was convicted in 2013 for an attempt to kill his sister in law. Two weeks ago he had to go to court for 3 different cases: bike theft, burglary and rape. He was a heavy drinker and drug user although off and on he would live like a devout moslim. He had a hard time after he got divorced 2 years ago. Still the politicians and officials put the focus on it most probably being a terrorist act. They created an enemy that created fear. And that is the real enemy. Mahatma Gandhi said it wisely: “The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.” Hate comes from fear.
I was glued to my screen most of the day. Unconcentrated. Worried in the beginning, irritated later. People were advised to stay inside and public buildings were closed off because the shooter (or shooters?) was still on the run. The authorities raised the terror threat to 5, the highest level. Around 17.00 people were told they could go back outside again.
Only in the evening did I remember the kind man in the morning and how I had been planning to write a story about kindness and the importance of small acts when I was walking home with the smile he gave me, my own smile. It wasn’t the other man who had ruined it, the violent man. It were the politicians and the media. And I had allowed them to.
I am not sure if I can fix it by writing that in a way there is just as much power in a random act of kindness as there is in a random act of violence. I am not sure if it is true. But I think it can be.