I can’t adequately explain why I woke up an hour before my alarm. Perhaps it was the early sunrise. Or maybe my excitement for the return of spring or the soothing sounds of the slow but steady trickle of snow and ice melting away, revealing a terrain I had all but forgotten since November. Sidewalks and benches emerged from their snowy hibernation, and there was a crispness to the air that could make even the most surly curmudgeon skip.
My wife and I were almost a year into living in Moscow, Russia, when we realized how much we had taken the sun and mild weather for granted. That morning, unlike those in the darkness of winter, I didn’t languish in bed, waiting until the absolute last second to peel myself out of my warm down comforter. I practically woke up with a bounce, ready to throw myself into the day and yet eager to take my time getting prepared.
A friend of mine and I had made plans to meet up near the center of the city. Despite the hints of a new and exciting season, lingering cold weather still made preparations for the outside world long and elaborate. Pausing as I layered clothing, I checked local news sites and social media to pass the time. While scrolling through news feeds, I began to see words pop up over and over again:
My Twitter timeline was inundated with confused warnings from Moscow residents. It appeared that some sort of terrorist attack had occurred around the center of the city. Casualties had been confirmed, and the number was slowly rising. Despite not yet having the most up-to-date information, I phoned my friend. Our plans would have to wait. I knew we, and most of the city, wouldn’t be going anywhere that day.
Casualties had been confirmed, and the number was slowly rising.
Over time, the haziness of panic began to fade, and more concrete details were confirmed. Within 40 minutes of each other, two train cars at separate stations were attacked by suicide bombers during the morning commute to work. Ultimately 40 people were killed, and hundreds were injured in the tragedy.
While the disaster was certainly heartbreaking, it also felt like a punch in the gut: The attack was in a place that affects the daily life of every Muscovite. Around half of the city takes the metro every day. On our laptops and cell phones, Beth and I checked in on friends around the city, beginning with those we knew worked in the areas of the attacks. Our Russian friends, too, were frantically checking on us. While 40 is a small number in a city of around 12 million, the attack felt personal. Beth and I, within a short walk of two different stations, used the metro every day, multiple times. Though the odds of a personal acquaintance being directly impacted was astronomically low, every person in Moscow wondered if someone they knew was affected.
As the rest of the world gradually woke to the news of the bombing, we received frantic and concerned messages from friends and relatives in the U.S. While they first wanted to make sure we were safe, the next most frequently asked question was if we were planning on leaving the city. Isn’t it too dangerous? Aren’t we worried? Shouldn’t we come home where it is safe?
Sharing in the struggle with our neighbors gave us all the stability to confront and outlast fear and uncertainty.
These thoughts hadn’t crossed our minds. And oddly enough, the opposite had. There’s something about a tragedy that tests and strengthens bonds of love within a community. When viewed from afar, spectators can see only the risk. But the processing and rebuilding that come after have a deepening effect—intensifying the sense of belonging, along with solidarity and affection. It’s a time of passing through grief together. In our experience, sharing in the struggle with our neighbors gave us all the stability to confront and outlast fear and uncertainty.
The Scriptures, we all know, speak of loving our neighbor. Here’s Galatians 5:13-14: “You … were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (NIV). After the bombings, if our first thought in the midst of it all was to leave when life became difficult, were we a part of the community to begin with? The attacks didn’t make us want to leave—they gave us no choice but to stay.
In the following days, as routines were forced to return to normal, we no longer took our safety for granted. We were now aware of our actions and the risks involved. Now, Beth and I made a conscious decision to walk underground into a subway tunnel—something we once did without thinking. But it was a risk we all knew we were taking, and we were taking it together. Our response and retaliation were merely to continue living our lives, habits and traditions unchanged—except, perhaps, for revealing a touch of defiance in the way we clung to them.
The moments of this tragic day in 2010 are etched in our minds. We will never forget the heartbreak and fear we felt. What we remember more, however, was the decision not to run from the danger, but to find solace with our loved ones and grieve together in the fog of loss. When we prayed for peace, it wasn’t a hypothetical, nebulous idea. It was a commitment to action.
Illustration by Adam Cruft