I was in Amsterdam on Monday evening when I heard the news, up very late. It was past midnight when I logged onto the BBC news website in anticipation of catching up on the latest political shenanigans, when I read “Breaking news in Manchester”.
At first, the news story suspected that it was a speaker that had malfunctioned, causing a very loud noise.
We are all reeling from this latest terrorist atrocity – and it’s touched so many of us very deeply, because it has targeted children. This is not the first time terrorists have targeted children, of course – they do it all the time in Syria. But it’s truly shocked us in the UK.
Human nature is such that we relate to what is closest to us.
For me and many people I know, this really does feel “too close”. Manchester is “my” city. I know it inside out. It’s the city I spent 6 years as a student, the city that I worked in for many years. I have lived in more places in Manchester than anywhere else! It’s the city I’m in at least once a month and my heart soars whenever I am there.
A girl in my eldest son’s class was at the concert – thrown by the blast, but thankfully alive and uninjured.
We feel grief, sadness and anger for the human beings whose lives were extinguished so suddenly and viciously. But then we think to ourselves:
“There but for the grace of God go I… it could have been my son, my daughter, my mother, my father…”
“Could have been”…But it wasn’t.
It’s another family, another set of friends and teachers experiencing excruciating grief.
And then another family, and another….
But right now, you and I are alive; our lives go on. We recognise that each new day is a blessing. We know deep down that we are lucky to be able to feel all the little irritations of life: frustration with our colleagues, bored with our jobs, angry with our children.
Those who use violence and murder to achieve their aims rely on us becoming fearful. And it’s oh so easy to let fear consume us. I know I’m not the only one who quietly wonders:
“What if I’m in the wrong place today?”
It would be easy to contract our lives just to stay “safe”: deny our children the joy of their first concert, just in case.
But human beings were not designed to be isolated from each other; we are meant to connect and grow. Focusing on our fear and wrapping ourselves in cotton wool is not an option that brings happiness or fulfilment.
I have no wise words or magic pill that will help make sense of a tragic loss of life or how to deal with fear. But I do know one thing – love is the only thing.
When the fear creeps upon us, there’s one thing that every single one of us can do – focus on love.
Love is the opposite of fear. When you feel frightened, think about how you can feel love instead and you’ll notice the fear dissipate. You could generate love through a random act of kindness to a friend or a stranger, by telling the person next to you how much you appreciate them. Feel love by hugging your loved ones. Or simply doing something that brings YOU joy and puts you in an expansive, loving state.
It’s so easy to be cynical about love, dismiss it as “hippy talk” and say; “Love won’t stop the suicide bombers or the bullets or all the bad things in the world”.
To those people, I say: “You’re so wrong!”
This week, we saw love in action in Manchester as the city wrapped its arms around each other; cabbies ferrying lost and frightened people home and to hospitals, homeless men pulling shrapnel out of children’s bodies and holding them; hotels providing shelter and comfort for the injured; the entire city holding a vigil in Albert Square in the city centre. The city was one, in love.
When you feel fear, focus on love.