Last night I walked home by Westminster. The streets were thronged with people walking, but quiet due to lack of cars. There was a cordon around Westminster, and police stationed all around it. Many of them were talking to Londoners looking for a way home. I heard a compassion in their voice which is often absent. They were not speaking as authority figures, enforcers or instructors. They were speaking as fellow beings. One of their own had been knifed to death. Another had taken the life of the attacker. Innocent people had been arbitrarily killed out of hatred or ideology, and one man had killed another man as part of his job. Details were sketchy. Speculation was rife. Thank god we don’t have easily accessible guns here. But last night, as is often the case after an event like this, Londoners came together.
Shock makes people talk. I wanted to listen, so I let people talk to me. I had conversations about how our liberty may or may not be affected. One man said “ten years ago, people were happy.” I didn’t agree but I just let him talk. He wanted to. I thought of my childhood. My grandmother from Jersey warning me not to go out in London in case I got bombed by the IRA. Some conversations were innocuous: “I wonder where we can get across the river” and so forth. Some were loaded. I came upon a pale smartly dressed woman who was shouting. She was at the top of The Aldwych. I asked her if she was alright and she shouted swear words at me. A mixture of English and another language, her mother tongue, not one I recognised. She had been crying, she appeared mad. And yet she had sat down in the morning and put makeup on. Had she witnessed it and got knocked off herself? It felt like she must have been affected by it. She shouted at me a while. It was hard to understand her and her eyes were wild and panicky. I tried to check if there was anything I could do, but even though she seemed to need to tell me something, I had to walk away because it was packaged with hostility. I hope the right person found her and helped her come back to herself, as she was buried deep. I hope she ended up okay. Maybe she woke up this morning and went to work. People died yesterday for literally nothing, and some of them were visitors to our country. What a foul thing to have happened.
On social media people started policing other people’s reactions, which is never smart or pleasant. Some marked themselves safe, others said that doing so was sensationalist behaviour and feeding the disruption. The people that had marked themselves safe felt indignant or upset for being criticised, the people that thought we shouldn’t fan the flames composed eloquent monologues analysing motive and fallout and implications. The people that marked themselves safe did it to make themselves feel a bit better, the people that monologued did it to make themselves feel a bit better. But it’s hard to feel better when you’re arguing about the right way to respond to something. Sometimes it’s better to just respond. Perhaps the shouting woman had it right, to just stand on a street corner and howl in multiple languages until all that badness is out of her. Like lancing a boil. I sometimes scream when loud trains are coming past near me. People think it’s the train if you pitch it right. I considered having a go, but there were too many police with guns, and I’m heavily tanned with a beard right now. Jumpy police and screaming beardy guy = bullet in the face.
No matter what we think of the ramifications of this, let’s try and be kind to each other in the next few days. As I said, shock makes people talk, and it’s a shock, so we need to talk. But let’s accept that some people will be emotional, and sometimes they’ll need to just shout or cry. And other people will be analytical and consider the repercussions and the aftereffects quickly and eloquently. Neither reaction is wrong. Analysis is as vital as emotion in the nature of how we process things as a society. Some people are better at one thing, and some the other. That’s what makes us mighty.
I’m going to end with this short poem by Wordsworth. He wrote it while on Westminister Bridge over 100 years ago. Wordsworth tried to live his days in a way where he was as emotionally connected and open as possible, and then after the experience he’d go back and try and recollect what he felt and put it into words. This is one of the poems that just pinged out of him on site, where the emotion he was experiencing forced the poem before the luxury of getting home and thinking about it.
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
I’m not feeling his tranquility. I’m conflicted, torn between my analytical part and my empath part. But in such times, poetry is a strong resource. Arguably it’s what it’s for. Plus it’s lovely to consider that bridge in such a calm light. It will long be tainted with darkness now. This mess we’re in…
That’s my 1000 words worth.