(Post written on 07 July 2015, published after much dithering on 08 July 2015)
Just when I think I’ve got a grip (finally!) on my anxiety, and I’m around nice, normal-ish people who talk about nice, normal-ish things, and the most stressful part of my day is logging onto our temperamental server, reality smacks me upside the head like a wet fish.
Today was the tenth anniversary of the London bombings. Ten years to the day danger and terror irrevocably brushed my life. It was a very surreal and anxiety-ratcheting experience passing two of the bombed stations on my commute this morning. There was a minute of silence at 08:50, and there were an equal number of people observing the silence as not. London’s population is constantly in flux, and there are people living here today who weren’t here ten years ago, who have no memories of how the streets of the capital fell silent, who have no memory of calling friends and family in a blind panic, trying to make sure loved ones were OK.
My first memory of the day was a ‘power surge’ in the tunnel, being stuck in the dark for ages, and then being evacuated off the train at the next station with no information forthcoming. It was hot and sticky and I had to schlep myself to work along with hundreds of other commuters, shoving on the pavement for some space. I remember walking into the office and a colleague asking me where my fiancé was. Schvitzing and grumpy, I didn’t know why she was so persistent, until she pointed me to the BBC news, and I realised his station was bombed. I couldn’t reach him, and called every other number in his office till I found someone who was fairly confident they had seen him that morning. We were four weeks off our wedding, and in a vanity dash, instead of taking the Tube, he walked to work that morning to shift some weight, and was thus safe. What are the odds?
I remember walking two hours to get home that afternoon, surrounded by thousands of other people doing the same. No one was talking. We had no mobile service, so no one touched their phones. There was an unreality about the whole day, almost as though we would wake up the next day and realise we had all shared a dystopian experience of epic proportions. That the pictures we had seen were just a drill. A Met Police exercise. Anything BUT what it was.
But the nightmare stretched into days and weeks for a few of us trying to track down loved ones and friends. I lost a friend & colleague that day, but we didn’t have it confirmed until days and a DNA test later.
I didn’t want to get back on the Tube the next day, but I did. In the aftermath, I toyed around with postponing the wedding, but we didn’t. We told our friends there would be no hard feelings if they re-thought travel plans. They didn’t; everyone invited showed up four weeks later, to celebrate with us. Every little bit of normality felt like an act of defiance, a spitting in the eye of the four madmen and their groomers.
Ten years later, I’m still uncomfortable taking public transport. My natural anxious state means I am always hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware every time I board a train, especially if I have my daughter with me. I text my husband and the babysitter every time I leave work, so someone knows where I am and which route I’m taking. As one person said at the memorial service today, we’re not wondering if another attack will happen, but when, because that’s the world we live in. The autopsies of the Sousse slain are still being conducted two roads down from my house, the wreaths from their caskets on the pavement. That’s our reality.
However, none of this tarnishes my love for my adopted hometown. London has a gritty survival instinct under its polished veneer, and I am madly proud to be a Londoner again. London survived the Blitz, the IRA bombs, 7/7 and probably anything else most fanatic lunatics would throw at it. The words of William Ernest Henley capture this spirit best:
In the fell clutch of circumstance, I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance, My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears, Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds, and shall find me, unafraid.