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When Terror Strikes Close To Home

I hope my roommate isn’t remembered as the girl who was killed by terrorists

The night after my roommate Tarishi was killed in the terrorist attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, in July, images of her face and the circumstances of her death ran endlessly behind my eyes, just like all the newsreels I had devoured for hours. Our university, UC Berkeley, sent out a schoolwide announcement about her death. Her face was on CNN. I read all the breaking news reports. Jake Tapper tweeted her name. Yet even after all that, I hadn’t fully wrapped my head around the fact that I would never see her again.

Less than two weeks after her death, another student from my university, Nick, was killed in another terrorist attack, this time in sunny Nice. He had been watching the Bastille Day fireworks from the promenade. It was like a one-two punch to the gut.

At my age, most people aren’t thinking about mortality. We aren’t looking much further into our futures than our next midterm, the newest movie, or a better job. But no matter one’s age, there is nothing that can provide adequate preparation for the loss of someone close to you.

In the wake of Tarishi’s and Nick’s deaths, I wasn’t sure how to feel or how to act. No one was — not my friends, my floormates, or my fellow Bears. We read about it, talked it out, cried it out, but what comes next? How much time do you grieve before you’re able to move on? When does it no longer feel inappropriate to laugh at jokes, to be lazy, to act like a fool with your friends?

The horrific circumstances of their deaths made our feelings even harder to process. Terrorism is something I never really imagined would affect me personally. It seemed like a far-off, hazy occurrence that I would see in headlines but not in my own life. You can hear about all the evil things in the world, watch all the news, and read all the articles, without ever really understanding them or knowing what they feel like. I know I did.

So when terror strikes close to home, how are we supposed to react? It’s not just any death — it’s a harrowing kind of murder, with implications that extend far beyond our own community.

We could respond the easy way — with anger, with fear, with hatred. That would be a convenient outlet for our feelings. We could lash out and threaten to cleanse society of all the potential dangers — all the “foreigners,” all the Muslims — and let ourselves slide into xenophobia. We could talk about grand abstract schemes like “getting rid of ISIS” and “eradicating radical Islam.” We could let fear force us to hide from our lives, too scared to stay out late, to go to the movies, or parades, or gay nightclubs.

Or we can steel ourselves, swallow those knee-jerk reactions, and continue to embrace the things that terror aims to take away from us: our ability to love unconditionally, to welcome compassionately, to support one another no matter the circumstances.

In fact, if there’s anything I’ve learned from losing a friend this way, it’s that even though death is sad and strange, it can bring out kindness and clarity in people in a way I never anticipated. There is never a shortage of good in the world. Despite all the people who have made it their life’s mission to rip communities like mine apart, we have managed to stand together. My school alone is a testament to this: Thousands of people came to the vigils held for Tarishi and Nick, to unite both in mourning and in celebration of life. Our floormates have grown to be more like a family than a floor, holding each other up and keeping each other strong. Even though we have faced a tremendous loss and are reckoning with personal wounds that may never fully heal, we stand together. None of us will ever have to mourn alone.

There is still some small part of me that expects to see my roommate again in the fall, walking down Sproul Plaza slowly because of her bad knee, stretching her arms out to me for a hug. We still have so many conversations left unspoken — about liquid eyeliner, Friends, the second-generation immigrant experience. Tarishi was extraordinarily well-traveled, and she dreamed of finding a way to jumpstart third-world economies. She never got the chance to explore that dream.

It’s been just over a month, and it’s still so hard. No matter how many times I tell myself she’s gone, sometimes it feels like I’m just removed from that reality, on the other side of some kind of glass, watching instead of living it. But even when I want time to stop, even when it seems like there will never be a day when I won’t think of her, life has to go on, and I’m learning to fall back into its flow.

In today’s reality, where horrific death and violence has become a daily headline, it’s all too easy to succumb to impulsive fear and anger. All the major news networks cinematically announce the world’s scariest events, and there’s no denying that they exist. But allowing ourselves to be divided by suspicion — the very intention of these terror attacks — overlooks all the good in the world. The friend who refused to leave Tarishi’s side during the attack, the students who launched a search effort to find Nick after the attacks in Nice, the Muslim father, Khizr Khan, whose son was slain in Iraq but who still called for people of all faiths, genders, and ethnicities in America to come together for their country — these people, not horrific terrorist attacks, define our humanity.

I hope Tarishi isn’t only remembered as the girl who was killed by terrorists. She should be remembered as she was: a student who loved her friends and her family, who procrastinated schoolwork sometimes, who was warm and empathetic always — a true and wonderful human of the world, right to the very end.

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