Tag Archives: Terrorist

Beautiful Belgium


Several years ago, as I was packing to travel through the southern part of America, my mother asked me what was my hurry to leave Kansas again.  I had lived in New Mexico, Tennessee, and California.  I had traveled extensively throughout America, driving cross-country on many occasions.  I had lived in England and traveled throughout Europe, Thailand, and Malaysia.

I thought my answer to Mom’s question was very honest and logical.  “Because, Mom, there are so many great things to see in this world.  God’s created so many wonderful landscapes and it’s also amazing to see what people have accomplished.  But, you know, there are always wars and disasters.  What if we run out of time?  What if we don’t get to experience all of the many wonders of the world before they are all destroyed by man or nature?”

Before I had finished my heartfelt statement, Mom was already packed and waiting in the car for me.  We would travel throughout America together and I’m so happy now that we had those special moments.  My mother entered heaven six years ago…and most of the beautiful world has been destroyed…not by nature or God, but by the will of man.

I was heartbroken last November when terrorist turned romantic, enchanting Paris into a battle zone.  Now, today, my heart is again splitting in two as I read the news reports about the suicide bomb attacks on the airport and train in Brussels, Belgium.  At least, 30 people were killed and many were injured.

My prayers today are with the people of Belgium.  I had been in that lovely country at a very innocent time.  When I was traveling the world, there was no fear of terrorist attacks.  I was in Belgium at a time when the country was joyful and peaceful.  I did not visit Brussels, unfortunately.  I was in the lovely, enchanted city of Bruges, just sixty miles northwest of Brussels.  Bruges is a place everyone should take the time to see someday, if there is still the opportunity now.  It is a fairy-tale, charmed city that still maintains its centuries-old architecture.  Most of the structures have been standing since medieval times (around the thirteenth century).  Visiting Bruges is like stepping back in time.   I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience this amazing city.

I had been living in England for just a month when the college I was attending arranged a trip to Bruges, Belgium, for all foreign students.  We would be taking an overnight cruise on a Thursday and returning the following Sunday.  Though the trip sounded enticing, several of my American friends debated if they should miss classes to go on the trip that was scheduled to leave on Thursday afternoon, November 26, 1992.  They didn’t want to miss classes on Thursday and Friday.  I thought I had the perfect solution.  “But Thursday is Thanksgiving,” I stated.  “You won’t be missing classes.”

“Um, Jamie,” the other American students informed me.  “They don’t have Thanksgiving in England!”

Oops!  My mistake!  Of course, I knew that.  I had just forgotten where I was for a moment.  But I decided not to feel stupid.  And I absolutely refused to feel guilty for skipping classes.  Though I always believed school was important, I absolutely was not going to miss the trip to Bruges!  I had come to England for the experience, not just the education.  I wanted to see all that I could see.  Any opportunity that presented itself to visit other countries, I’d be damned if I was going to pass it up!  This would be my first trip to Europe and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Unfortunately, now, that world is slipping away.  I’m so pleased I decided to go on the cruise.  I didn’t give my classes a second thought.  I didn’t know if I would get another opportunity like this.

I had never been on a cruise before and loved being on the boat, even though, through another small bout of idiocy, I almost missed it.  I had taken a taxi to the port early and arrived before any of my fellow American classmates or our faculty advisor, Tom, had appeared.  I had been worried about missing the boat so I was content to arrive almost an hour early to meet up with everyone.

Slowly, my fellow travelers began to drift in until there were about thirty students sitting with Tom in the lobby waiting for the call announcing that we could board our ship.  However, before we could get on the boat we had to fill out an immigration card.  Card…what card?  Oh, yes, that thick, little, yellow card we were given by the university when we signed up for the trip and I had just thrown away in the port lobby trash can while I was waiting to board because I didn’t think it was important.  Now, I suddenly realized I wasn’t going to be able to get on the boat without it!

I wasn’t alone in my error this time, however.  Most of the American students did not have their cards either much to the annoyance of the small customs officer guarding the gate.  The officer was a short, skinny man with sparse gray hair, a loud voice, and a total lack of patience.  He appeared to become even more aggravated and annoyed with each of the students who tried to pass through his gate without the appropriate documents.  Explaining that the yellow cards had to be completely filled out before we could board, the officer loudly pronounced each student “Idiot” or “Moron” as he handed out additional cards and pens.

Suddenly, it was my turn at the customs desk and I was added to officer’s “moron” list.  I took the card and the pen he handed me and ran over to a little bench against the side wall to fill out the document.  I put down all of the necessary information: my name, where I was from, what country I was traveling to, and when I expected to return.  I noticed that my fellow classmates had now boarded the boat and I was the last one left.  I hurriedly applied my signature to the card and ran back to the gate.  The officer snatched the card out of my hand and said, “You finally finished.  You’re leaving the country.  Good, we can all celebrate now that you’re gone.”

And all of a sudden, out of my mouth came the words, “Funny.  That’s what they said when I left America, too.”

The customs officer suddenly stopped and stared at me for a moment…and then laughed out loud.  He smiled at me so beautifully, wished me a great trip, and told me he hoped I traveled safely.  He stamped my card, handed it back to me with a squeeze of my hand, and pointed out which direction I needed to go next.  He walked me to the gate with an arm across my shoulders before telling me good-bye and returning to his desk.  It was so strange to me that just those few words that popped right out of my mouth made the officer so kind and warm.  It was a great start to the trip to Bruges, Belgium.

It got even better, too.  We were traveling over night and one of the first things we did upon boarding the ship was enter the dining room for supper.  My gosh, I have never seen so much food in my life!  All kinds of food was lined up on every available counter space and steam table on the far side of the large room.  The food was endless.  People were lined up everywhere, grabbing first, second, and third platefuls of fish, chicken, steak, potatoes, vegetables, and rich, creamy deserts.  The counters were never empty regardless of how much food the passengers seized.  I imagined that all of the food could probably have feed hundreds of families for the next five years.  As starving students, I don’t know if that fact occurred to us at the time as we continued to go back to the buffet tables for additional nibbles of the entrees.  The food was there and we continued to indulge, our stomachs almost as deep and endless as the North Sea we were crossing.

About ten pm that night, while many of my fellow students were at the on-board bar, disco, or movie theater, I stood out on the deck and looked out into complete, never-ending darkness.  Every now and then, I would see a small ripple of water, but I couldn’t believe how lost I was in the total blackness.  There were no lights at all from the sky or the sea.  I was just drifting away, alone, with no one or nothing to hold me down.  I stood for a long time sailing away in the darkness, contemplating what would happen if I fell over the side of the boat.  Now, this was very different.  I wasn’t contemplating suicide, but I was being seduced by the nothingness and silence of everything around me.  I just fantasized slipping into that darkness and letting myself drift peacefully away, floating into eternity.  Finally, exhausted from the day, I breathed deeply into the blackness a few more times before finally going off to bed and letting the gentle currents rock me into a deep sleep.

The next morning, I woke up early and went for a morning run around the ship before meeting up with my classmates, Melissa and Sheilah.  We walked around the ship singing “My Girl” at the top of our lungs.  I was just so in the moment, feeling the sea breeze against my skin and the rocking of the ship under my feet, that I sang out loud in full voice, something I don’t usually do with other people around.  I didn’t care who heard me that day.  I was happy, carefree, and at peace.

After a few hours, we finally docked at the Belgium port and prepared to leave the ship.  Most of us from Hull University got off the ship easily but had a long wait on the bus that was going to take us to our hotel.  I couldn’t imagine what was taking so long for us to leave.  Everyone grew more concerned as Tom left the bus several times to run back to the docked ship.  After forty-five minutes, we were finally given some information.  One person from our group was missing.  The absentee had been found but there was another problem.  He was too drunk to get off the ship.  He had partied so much the night before, that officials were working relentlessly and furiously that morning trying to revive him.

For many of the students, this was one of their first moments of freedom, away from home, family, and school, and they took full advantage of it.  It certainly didn’t help to be on a ship that had several bars, restaurants, movie theaters, discos, gyms, and food and drink everywhere.  It was a boat full of temptation everywhere a person turned.  Many people were enticed to indulge without limitations.

It was finally decided to leave the student behind and once he sobered up, he would join us in Bruges.  He finally came stumbling out of a taxi in front of the hotel late in the afternoon.  At least, he did make it and had the opportunity to see such a glorious city.

…And glorious it was!  I fell in love with Bruges.  It continues to be one of the most fascinating places I have ever been.  I watched a Christmas holiday parade that proudly presented Saint Nicholas riding into town on a donkey.  I took endless pictures of the unusual architecture and brick twisted streets.  I’m fascinated with architecture and have countless photos of buildings and city views.  I actually explored the city on my own.  Everyone else opted to party at night and sleep the day away. I was just the opposite.  I explored the city continuously during the day, walking through the gorgeous courtyards, dancing down the cobbled streets, daydreaming by the river, and fantasizing about being a princess in the thirteenth century.  I went to bed early every night, so I could wake up to enjoy the sun rising over beautiful Belgium.

On the very last day of our time in this great country, I actually took on the role of tour guide for several late-night-partying students.  I showed them the many highlights of the town before getting on the bus to head back to the docks.  Several people later told me how much they regretted not experiencing more of this beautiful city.  I have no regrets at all.  I took full advantage of exploring Bruges on the limited time I had there.

It was a rough journey back to England on the ship, though.  On the way to Belgium, the cruise had been very smooth and comfortable.  “That’s because we are fighting the currents,” Tom informed me when I expressed my surprise at the rough rocking and tossing of the ship this time.  That made sense.  I could understand that but then he continued, “I’m really surprised we got to go at all.  Last year, the crew forgot to shut the doors in the bottom of one of their passenger ships.  The bottom filled with water and the whole boat capsized.  Hundreds of people drowned.”  Way more information than I needed.  I went to bed that night, agonizing and praying over every bump and wave.  I was relieved when we finally made it back to England the next morning.

But that scare did not stop me from believing that my time in Bruges, Belgium, was one of the most magical adventures of my life.  Gorgeous, amazing, wonderful Belgium…my heart is breaking for you now.  I pray for your recovery and I’m saddened for all of the people who never got to experience your majestic, enchanted atmosphere in the past.  Visiting your amazing country has been one of my best memories.  God bless Belgium and all of her people.






I know it is not professional to cry at work.  However, on Saturday, November 14, 2015, I just couldn’t control my tears.  I personally wasn’t having any problems.  Instead, the world was in chaos and utterly crestfallen.  The night before, November 13, 2015, Paris, France, was under attack by Isis Terrorists.  My brother, Tony, my sister-in-law, Mary, and I sat in front of the TV glued to CNN for the latest updates and reports.  As I listened to the news, I felt horrified and outraged.  I felt anger and confusion.  I felt sympathy and heartbreak.  I didn’t cry at that moment though.  I don’t know if I was just in shock or I had yet to process all of the information.  I intellectually understood what had happened but my emotions were overwhelmed.

The next morning, Saturday, November 14, I had gone to work at 6 am.  I briefly discussed the Paris situation with one of my co-workers.  We both expressed our disgust and anger over the circumstances.  My emotions did not burst into action, though, until I went on my first break.  At 8:30 am, I walked into the break room, grabbed my diet coke out of the refrigerator, and sat down in front of the large screen TV.  The Today Show was on and the number one topic, of course, was the situation in Paris.  As I listened to the news updates, I couldn’t stop the tears that suddenly swam in my eyes and then drifted down my cheeks.  The news reports were focused on the many beautiful, brave people who had suffered the attack.  My tears started flowing when I heard about the spectators who were at the soccer stadium watching France play against Germany when the first explosions occurred.  Many people at the stadium confessed that they thought they were hearing fireworks and didn’t realize until later that they were actually hearing two suicide bombers.  The spectators were held at the stadium for a while until they were finally free to go home.  It was reported that as the people left the stadium, they walked out singing the France national anthem.  I couldn’t stop my tears as I watched these brave souls walking through the stadium with their heads held high and their voices ringing out in solidarity as they sang the national anthem.  It was beautiful, encouraging, and incredibly moving.

Then Matt Lauer came on the screen and announced that a young woman who had been at the restaurant that was attacked by the terrorist was going to give details about her experience.  A young woman, Charlotte, now appeared in front of me.  Charlotte’s beautiful face appeared stiff and her eyes looked wide and stunned.  She had the appearance of someone who had withstood a terrible shock.  But when she began to speak, I was mesmerized by her words and demeanor.  She was brilliant, articulate, and spoke with clarity and compassion.  She explained to Lauer and the television audience that she had been eating dinner at the restaurant at the time of the attacks.  When the bombs first went off, she, too, believed that they were fireworks.  But suddenly the windows began to shatter and shards of glass were flying everywhere.  Everyone in the restaurant got down on the floor and tried to protect him- or herself from the madness.  Charlotte claimed that a woman beside her suddenly reached out and grabbed her hand.  Charlotte held on tight to the stranger’s hand as the gunfire and bombs continued.  Finally, the woman looked at Charlotte and said, “We are going to survive, right?”  Charlotte had responded, “Yes, we will survive.”  Only then did Charlotte turn to look at the stranger and discovered that the woman gripping her hand was dying.  The stranger had been shot in the chest and blood was everywhere.  Charlotte continued to hold the woman’s hand until the attack, and life itself, had come to an end.

I didn’t care if my coworkers in the break room thought I was crazy.  I openly cried as I listened to Charlotte’s story.  Even though I was at work, I didn’t want to control my emotions.  My prayers and thoughts went out to Charlotte and the stranger beside her.  I couldn’t stop thinking of the people of Paris walking together while singing the National Anthem even in the wake of horrifying tragedy.  I was heartbroken over Paris and sad for all of her people.

I had been so fortunate to be in Paris several years ago.  I was going to school in England and had the opportunity to do some extended traveling.  I traveled all through Europe and loved every country I was able to visit.  Paris, France, however, was one of my favorite places.  Even then, the city shined with warmth, dignity, and a sophistication I had never experienced before.

My friends and I first visited the Eiffel Tower.  Now, I have to be honest.  When I first saw the Eiffel Tower, I wasn’t very impressed.  It just looked like a huge, cold, steel structure to me.  I walked around with my friends and took some pictures but was rather disappointed.  Maybe it was just the fact that I had heard about the tower for so long and had seen so many pictures of it, I had expected something more.  However, my feelings soon changed.  My friends and I decided to climb the tower.  Climbing up the Eiffel tower to the top was exhilarating!  I enjoyed the activity and received a magnificent award for the effort.  The view was incredible!  I vividly remember standing at the top of the tower and gazing down on Paris.  The city was alive and vibrant.  Even at the top of the tower, I was able to feel an energy buzzing all around me from the streets and buildings and parks below.

My friends and I visited the tower again that night…and that’s when the magic came alive!  Seeing the Eiffel Tower aglow with lights is one of my most precious memories.  It was a stunning, incredible sight.  Now, I realized why Paris is called The City of Lights.  The illumination was blindingly mesmerizing.  I feel in love with the Eiffel Tower and all of Paris in that one spectacular moment.

The next day, I ventured out on my own to explore.  I traveled to Notre Dame Cathedral, the setting of Victor Hugo’s amazing classic The Hunchback of Notre Dame, one of my all-time favorite books.  The design of the cathedral is enchanting and I felt immediately transported to another century as I walked serenely and silently around the grounds and the interior of the building.  I felt a similar reverence when I toured the Louvre Museum and stood gazing starry-eyed at Da Vinci’s famous Mona Lisa painting.  I was also fascinated by the Arc de Triomphe at the western end of the Champs-Elysees.  The Arc was built for Napoleon after one of his many victories and honors the soldiers of the French Revolution.

After visiting these monuments, I decided to stroll down the main streets and visit a few of the quaint and elegant boutiques.  I tried on several dresses but couldn’t afford to buy anything.  I was young and happy and just thought it was a thrill to be trying on cute party/cocktail dresses at shops lining the streets of Paris.

One of the main streets in Paris is completely illuminated with bright white lights.  All of the shops and restaurants on this street had agreed that their signs, marquees, and widow displays would be white only.  Even McDonald’s agreed to this arrangement.  There were no golden arches at this McDonald’s.  The large arches that stretched up into the dark night sky were completely white.

I was surprised to find that the interior of McDonald’s was completely made up of marble, brass, and gold.  The restaurant had two levels.  The bottom level held many tables and chairs.  The upper level contained the service counter.  Two long, wide, marble staircases curved around both sides of the restaurant.  In awe of the opulence, I slowly climbed the stairs, walked past the service counter, and over to the bathrooms.  The ladies’ room was just as elegant with gold faucets and marble counters.  An elderly female bathroom attendant stood right inside the doorway.  She smiled as she gripped some silver tongs, reached into the square basket resting in her arms, and picked up a hot, wet towel which she handed over to me.  I thanked her as I tried to pretend that I knew what to do with the small, white towel.  I noticed a tip jar standing on a small, square table.  I dug through my purse and threw a few scattered coins into the jar before exiting the bathroom.  I walked back down the stairs, across the dining room, and out the front door.  I was still surprised that the beautifully decorated restaurant with the elaborate décor was actually a McDonald’s.

After wandering the streets for a few more minutes, I decided to get a cup of tea at an outside restaurant.  I sat down on a delicate, black, wrought-iron chair and placed my purse up the round, checkered table.  I ordered a cup of hot tea from the large, jovial server.  The man was very nice and very handsome with thick, dark hair and a thin mustache.  Surprisingly, he found me rather attractive, too!

He soon brought the tea, in a delicate china cup that I was terrified of breaking, over to my table, but he didn’t walk away.  He stood by my table and stared at me for a moment.  Then he said, “You are so beautiful.”

I blushed and awkwardly whispered a “Thank you” as I shifted on the small, padded cushion.  The man did not go away, though.  He continued to talk.  “Please come back and see me tonight,” he stated.  “I leave work at 8 pm.  I want to see you again.”

I stared at him in shock, thinking that maybe I was misunderstanding his words.  Was he speaking a language I was misinterpreting?  But, no, he was speaking clear, flawless English with an attractive lilt to his voice.  I unfortunately had to turn him down.  My friends and I were leaving for Germany that night.  I told him I was unavailable, but he didn’t stop.  He continued to ask me to come back that evening.  I sipped my tea nervously and tried to pretend that I was a sophisticated young woman.  But the actual truth was that I was shocked and confused by his forwardness.  I don’t think I had every experienced that before.  (Later, I would again struggle against the affability of European men in both Italy and Germany…but those are stories for another time.)

Finally, I got up from my table and walked down a flight of concrete steps to the bathroom.  A few minutes later, I was surprised to find my amorous waiter waiting for me when I opened the door.  “You are so beautiful,” he sighed as he reached down and grabbed my hands.  His strong hands wrapped tightly around my own as he held them close to his heart.  “You must come back.  I will be done at 8.  Please come back.”  Then he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek…and then he kissed the other cheek…while I tried to pull my hands out of his.

I tried to explain again that I was leaving for Germany that night as I tried to angle my way over to the stairs.  But he was still holding on to my hands.  I continued to walk over to the stairs and was pulling my affectionate waiter up along with me as I tried to extract my hands from his.  Finally, at the top of the stairs, I was able to ease my hands away, say a swift good-bye, and walk off down the street.  The situation may have been a little shocking at first.  It may sound as if the waiter had behaved completely inappropriately, but it really wasn’t scary or threatening.  I didn’t feel like I was in any danger.  It was actually a really sweet moment and remains one of my favorite memories of Paris.

So, now, as I watched The Today Show and viewed the destruction of wonderful Paris, I wondered where my waiter was now.  I wondered if he was safe.  I thought of the Eiffel tower and the Louvre.  I thought of the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame cathedral.  Beautiful, stunning, sophisticated, romantic Paris…an illuminated city suddenly dark…what a shame…what a damn shame!

I dried my tears and went back to work but Paris remained in my thoughts, memories, and prayers.  Yet, overall, a spark of hope remained.  The Parisian people are honorable, courageous, sophisticated, loving, proud…Paris may change but it will never be destroyed because the people will never surrender and will fight for Victory as they did in both World Wars.  I believe in Paris and I believe in her people.  History has proven that Paris will never give up in defeat and her people will remain strong.

Pray for Peace for Paris.