My hurt, beautiful, beloved city of London. Such terrible, senseless, pointless misery. Westminster Bridge is unnerving at the best of times, overloaded with tourists and selfie sticks and shell game con men, but it does have some spectacular views. Yesterday, the views were horrific, the stuff of nightmares. All those people, all those children. A friend asked if it was selfish to think of one’s own children at times like this. “No,” was my response. Though I can’t. I can’t possibly, for even one moment, think that they might have been there. If I did, I would never let them out of the house ever again. But I haven’t stopped thinking about those French girls. And their parents. Oh, I can’t imagine what their parents are going through. I’ve also been thinking about the group of high school girls from New York City I had on my Cathedral tour on Tuesday. Their teacher did not want them to see Bill Viola’s video installation, Martyrs, that hangs on the end of the Dean’s Aisle. “They are not worldly enough for that kind of reality,” she told me. I am sure I looked incredulous (they were 14 and 15 years old!), but moved them along, as she asked. Martyrs does, after all, deal directly with reality. The reality of a world that is filled with violence. I wonder how that teacher spun yesterday’s events? Hiding from truth doesn’t make it go away, it just makes it harder to accept. And the truth is that London has long, long been a favourite spot for terrorists. Yesterday’s attack came one day after the accused terrorist turned peace-seeking politician Martin McGuiness died. Before Islamic State sympathizers was the IRA and the Suffragettes before that. Perhaps this explains why Londoners rose to the challenge on the afternoon and have remained sensible since. Keep Calm and Carry On, and all that.
I was on the Tube early this morning. The Northern Line was its usual sweltering crush of humanity. While there was intense competition to give the pregnant woman a seat, when the lady next to her announced that she too needed to sit down as, and I quote, “I don’t like changing temperatures,” no one budged. Kindness in crisis, certainly, but there are limits. And that is the beauty of London. Brave, strong, unflappable, and fantastically matter of fact. So what were Londoners up to this morning? Changing their social media profiles to elicit sympathy?, penning pithy memes to share with the world?, engaging in some sort of cringey piggy backing on someone else’s grief?, group hugs? Like hell. They were getting on. Getting on, with a level of sadness and an even higher level of admiration and respect for the police and emergency workers and heroic passers by, without whom this tragedy could have been so much worse, certainly, but getting on. A quick glance at Instagram proved that my friends were clearly out and about in town…shopping at Borough Market, admiring a tree in bloom, creating something interesting, or, in my case, at the Royal Academy with a good friend, chatting and looking longingly at the Gary Hume prints (which are for sale!!!!). This isn’t to suggest we are heartless, quite the contrary. I think emotions are running deep, and tonight’s vigil in Trafalgar Square will be plenty weepy, but until that time, we will go about our lives and let the Tube station announcement boards speak for us. Those “Thought for Today” get us through the ordinary days, even more so on the extraordinary. My own station reminded us that we are stronger united than divided. Well, we were certainly united in not giving that climate fussy woman a seat. Tower Hill told us that the rarest and most beautiful flower is the one that blooms in adversity. Making the social media rounds (so don’t know if an authentic station sign) is a message politely reminding terrorists that: “This is London and whatever you do to us we will drink tea and jolly well carry on. ” The wisdom doesn’t stop at the ticket hall, however, as the platforms are plastered with Cabinet War Rooms’ posters of Churchill and his various empowering phrases, such as “we must not lose our faculty to dare, particularly in dark days.” Indeed, Mr. Churchill, indeed. So strap those boots on and go.
I may not have been born and raised here, but I claim London as my own. And I am proud. Shocked and saddened, but unbowed. And carrying on. As are we all.