There really are no words to describe what happened in Manchester this week. We can try to pin adjectives to it – tragic, heartbreaking, devastating – but there is no word in the English language that can really capture how it feels that 22 people went out to a concert and never came home. There are no words to describe the pain and loss that 22 families and countless loved ones are feeling right at this moment. There are also no words that can express the magnitude of our resilience and strength as a country.
I wasn’t intending to write anything about this: after all, everything there is to say has already been said by people far more important and articulate than me. But then, a friend from abroad asked me if I still felt safe living in London now that the terror threat has been raised to critical, and it really got me thinking.
The sad fact is that we live in a dangerous world in uncertain times and, for a million reasons, we can’t claim to be truly safe anywhere. One of those reasons is that there are terrible people out there – people who twist the words of a peaceful religion to justify their insanity, people who try to make us feel afraid in all the places that should be safe: in our cities, on our daily commutes, beside our favourite musicians. There has been a strange heaviness in the air this week as we come to realise that more and more, as though our combined worry has developed a physical weight. This feeling is only magnified by the police presence which (while so comforting) is a constant and unrelenting reminder that we should feel unsafe.
In answer to my friend’s question though: I feel cautious, sure, but not unsafe. And certainly not afraid. Because if we start giving into fear, then those terrible people win. If we stop going to concerts, start avoiding crowds, live our lives differently because we are afraid, then we are telling those people that we can be pushed down and manipulated by them.
I guess all that we, as bystanders and spectators, can do in situations like this is hope that things can and will get better. That in the grand scheme of things, one particle of evil can do nothing against thousands of people filled with nothing but goodness and compassion. We can stand together and stand strong and offer help and support where we can. We can refuse to be steamrolled by cowards who think they can force us to be spineless and spiritless. We can know with certainty that however hard we get hit we can stand back up, stronger than ever. Because this is London, and it isn’t going down without a fight. And neither is the rest of England.
Two days after the Westminster attack in March, I was in the audience at the Last Leg and no one can articulate how I feel better than Adam Hills, Alex Brooker and Josh Widdicombe. Watch it here. Or listen to Warmth by Bastille.