My thoughts are still scattered.
2. 7. 33. 38. 45.
By themselves, those are not big numbers. There's nothing scary about those numbers. But it's different when the number is the number of people dead, in London, today. And very different when you know the only difference between you and those people is what time you got on your train this morning.
Even so, they're not big numbers. Not close to 191, say: the death toll in Madrid. And we dismissed even that number as nothing close to the 2,752 of September 11th. Even in the UK, on an average day, more than twice as many people die in traffic accidents.
But the effect is different. Traffic accidents do not dramatically change the way we feel about the city, the way we carry on our daily lives. The September 11th bombings were shocking and world-changing, but half a world away. They left me horrified, but still able to function. Today, my mind has been unable to focus on anything except that the bombings were aimed at me.
Not just me in the abstract, as a Westerner, as a Briton (and boy do I feel British today), or even as a Londoner. That bomb in Liverpool Street was 200m away from where I sit at my desk, 100m from where I buy my lunch every day, the same station I use several times a week to get around London. Moorgate, also affected today (although it's not clear how), is where I catch my train most mornings. If I don't go that way, I go through King's Cross on the Victoria line -- also bombed today. And when I'm not catching tubes or trains, I catch a bus -- and they got those too. It was not some abstract person cowering at his desk today, it was me, as the police cordoned off our street and told us to stay inside and move away from the windows. I've not been so scared in a long time.
Only now do I understand what it was like to be from Madrid on March 11th, or New York on 9-11. It is personal. London is my city, my home. I love it, and they hurt it. That's the reason for the shock and anger and grief that I feel, the reason I have been on the edge of tears all day, the reason they are running down my face as I type this. As callous as it may sound, the images that hurt me most are not the dead and the injured -- though there have been plenty of tears for them too -- but the images of empty streets, halted trains, lines of stopped cars and empty bus lanes. My loved ones are so far all, thankfully, unharmed, but my beloved city is reeling, her heartbeat slowed, her movements stopped, her body damaged. And it hurts me to see the city like this, and to be unable to do anything. The whole city is grieving, not just for the 700+ Londoners who are injured, but for itself, for the idea of London.
It hurts especially because of the contrast from yesterday. The city was in high spirits, people were smiling and pointing at the headlines. The red arrows flew over my head trailing smoke in three colours. The mood was celebration, a city that was about to get a flood of new jobs and investment and excitement from hosting the Olympics. No one is smiling at the headlines today. Instead, as I walked all the way home along with thousands of others, there was a shared expression: not panic, not grief, not even anger. Just a grim determination to get home, to move on, to put this behind us as soon as possible.
I can see myself going through all the well known stages of recovery. This morning, riding my bus and hearing rumours from other passengers and text messages of power outages and explosions on the tube, I was certain the word "bomb" was just nervous people overreacting to something that has happened before: a power outage. Explosions can be associated with power outages, when transformers overload -- even three at once isn't that unusual, since one failing can trigger more.
Then I got to work, and heard about the bus. Or the two buses. Or the three buses. (People heard Travistock Street and Russell Square, and counted these as two, not realizing Travistock road leads away from Russell Square). This was not a power failure. It was the same moment of horrible realisation that I experienced as I watched the second plane hit the world trade centre: the instant transition from accident to attack.
The next stages are anger and depression. I have been profoundly depressed all afternoon, that something so horrible could ruin my city for me. That this could happen here. That people had died. That things were not right. Now that grief is beginning to slowly turn to anger.
But the overwhelming feeling is, unfortunately, one of fear. This was an act of terrorism, and it was an effective one. I'm terrified at the thought of going to work tomorrow, of getting on a train, of catching a bus. I missed today's attacks, but only by time, not route or location. I know it is an act of cowardice, an admission of defeat, to change my behaviour in response to these attacks. I know I should go into work tomorrow. But I'm afraid.
At the same time, the news tonight has been encouraging. On the one hand, it has been full of carnage and disruption, of shocked people and heartbreaking scenes. But there have been predictably human responses: doctors running down the street from nearby hospitals; pub owners handing out free cups of tea to shaken customers; an old man, waiting for a ferry to take him home, said what I wanted to hear: "London goes on."
And it was also encouraging to hear repeatedly how remarkably unpanicked everyone was. Even in suddenly-dark tube tunnels, with smoke and heat and wreckage, people were filing out slowly. London's emergency services knew what they were doing: buses were commandeered to ferry the injured around, the air ambulance they've been plugging so heavily shifted doctors to the scene, hospitals instantly switched onto prepared disaster plans, cancelling nonessential activities and recalling key staff. We've had exercises to prepare for this, and despite 1,500 police lured away to Gleneagles for the G8, it all seemed to work. Unhappy as it is, this could have been so much worse, and we have their preparation to thank for that.
So now, I cling to the final stages of recovery: understanding and acceptance. That's why I can't stop watching the news and reading the reports. I need to understand this, get a grip on it, and that will make it less scary. I need to know everything about how it happened and who did it, what they did. And I need to write about it, here. None of what I have written here is news to anybody. In fact, you could almost have copied this over from another blogger's description of the attacks in Madrid or New York. The world already knows, alas, the shape of these attacks, and the feelings they engender. I'm not writing for you, I'm writing for me.
And maybe soon I can stop weeping for my city.