I am writing this looking out of the window of a local cafe at a busy urban street scene in central Walthamstow. People from hugely diverse religious, cultural, national backgrounds going about their business – shopping, waiting for the bus, meeting friends, going to work, taking their children to the park.
I am also fighting back tears after reading the heartbreaking account of what happened in Manchester last night, and thinking of the families who will never know another ‘normal’ morning like this.
Life feels so fragile and frightening when horror like this occurs. It is incredibly tempting to retreat into ourselves, closeted away with our families and friends, shutting ourselves off from that scary world outside. I feel that temptation. When the attack in Westminster happened last month it was a real effort of will to get on the Tube with Sophia the next morning and carry on our usual routine. But this instinct to retreat is not the right one. Life is fragile and precious, so all the more reason to live it fully. We know and trust those closest to us, but when a dreadful event like this happens, what becomes immediately clear is the abundant kindness and humanity of strangers. People from Manchester and surrounding areas (including my hometown, Liverpool) have opened their homes, given lifts, made tea and offered whatever helping hand was necessary to those who needed it. There are queues of people wanting to donate blood this morning.
There is much speculation as to whether the suicide bomber will turn out to be a lone individual or part of a wider terrorist network. Obviously that matters for the police as they try to prevent more such attacks, but for us as worried onlookers, I don’t think it does. Whether through badness or madness or both there will always be people who do or advocate terrible things. But they are the exceptions and the outliers, and in no way represent the communities they come from.
When we have talked to Anna about terrorist attacks – figuring it is better she hears about them from us than convoluted versions on the school grapevine – we emphasise that whenever anything bad happens the people who try to help and heal always far, far outnumber the people who tried to hurt and kill. Whether that be hospital staff working through the night, or emergency services putting their own lives at risk or call handlers keeping witnesses and victims calm while they wait for help to arrive, or ordinary people opening their hearts and homes to those who need it.
Political campaigning has been suspended following the attack, and I very much hope that signals a sensible and grown-up approach, which doesn’t try to lay blame anywhere except on the man who detonated the bomb. Be deeply suspicious of leaders or politicians who try to stir up blame and hatred against immigrants or religious communities or any other wide group of people for the actions of a few, because divided countries and communities are weaker ones.
The best way we can show solidarity with the victims, the survivors, the bereaved of last night’s attack is to follow the example of the people who reached out their hands to help. Smile at a stranger, put some money in a charity collection tin, go and donate blood or register on the organ donation website and, above all, teach your children the truth – good people in the world by far outweigh bad, and we are all stronger when we stand united.