Posted by Kimberly S. Belle
I was at the Habitat for Humanity office in the Netherlands, writing copy for a donor newsletter. One of my colleagues returned from a meeting with the news. There had been attacks on America, on American ground soil.
This was back in the days of dial-up and sketchy internet, and the lone office computer with a connection to the outside world was ancient and slow. The news sites were swamped and took forever to load. I didn’t get the full picture, but I got enough to know it was bad. I grabbed my stuff, picked up my kids from their schools and daycare, and drove home, where I watched the horror unfold on CNN International.
I think I’ve said it here before, I always had a problem with being called an expat. The word has all sorts of connotations, thanks to the little prefix at the beginning. Expelled, exiled, expatriated. Yes, I was living out of my country of citizenship, and yes, it was a voluntary move, but I’ve never liked the assumption that living abroad made me any less of an American. In fact, I’d dare say the opposite is true, that nothing heightens your feelings of national pride like being the stranger in a foreign country.
I remember a lot of things from that day in September, and from the days and weeks afterward, but the thing that sticks with me the most was the kindness. Dutch friends and family called with their condolences. Neighbors and other moms and strangers on the street, as soon as they realized I was American, expressed their solidarity. The unemotional Dutch, a culture known for their stoicism, cried real tears for me, an expatriated visitor from another country. Never have I felt more American, and never have I loved the Dutch more.
Those of us who lived through that day don’t need a hashtag to remember, but I’ll put it here anyway: #neverforget.