Where were you and what were you doing on March 22, 2016 when terrorists attacked the Brussels Airport and the Maelbeek Metro Station? I was visiting my family in the Philippines, but I do remember coming back home to Brussels a few days later and finding her radically changed and almost unrecognisable.
Before the attacks, the Brussels I knew was an ultra laid-back city. If she were a person, you could describe her as calm, composed, and almost incapable of emotion except when the beers start pouring and drunkenness gives way to vulnerability. But other than that, Brussels for me was a self-controlled and imperturbable structure. Neither hostile nor warm, uptight nor spontaneous. Friendly yes, but in a rather formal and unaffected way.
After the attacks, the Brussels I returned to was suddenly vulnerable, fragile, and throbbing with emotion. I had never seen Brussels so broken, so real. As if her sturdy facade fell apart and exposed the hidden human side of her. It was like getting to know a different side of Brussels while at the same time watching her character transform.
— EU Council (@EUCouncil) March 22, 2017
Nothing could be as sobering and life changing as tragedy. Pain and grief have a powerful way of uniting people, and the struggle to survive yields maturity and resilience. This is how Brussels responded and evolved in the days and months following the terror attacks that claimed 32 victims and wounded more than 300.
Amid the tension and the trauma, residents of various nationalities and backgrounds gathered together to draw strength and courage from one another, and restore the spirit of the city they call home. We saw how the authorities scrambled and strived to advance their strategies in combating terrorism and rebuilding security. In the end, all those actions combined only made Brussels a safer, stronger, and more humane home for its residents.
It’s been a year since the bloody attacks, and Brussels is now back to her good old laid- back self. Only this time, it comes from the humanity and wisdom of one that has survived and triumphed over the worst. And if you see her calm and composed like before, it is only because of a firm conviction that threats of terror and acts of hatred will never faze her.
In a strange way, Brussels felt more like home to me after the horrors of March 22. I felt more deeply connected to my adoptive city after living through her darkest days until the return of light. Home is a place that makes you feel safe, not because nothing can go wrong or nothing bad can happen. Rather, home is a place that makes you feel safe because you know that whatever happens, it can and will carry you through and raise you up once more.