The hours after a bombing are fraught. Families and friends in a frantic search for loved ones, the rest of us in a frantic search for meaning. Most of us are feeling totally powerless, hurt beyond words, and lost. We don’t have to have this all figured out, and there is something we can do about it.
In the wake of this awful moment, we can be pulled in so many directions.
The first is silence. A respectful silence, that honours the weight of lost and fractured lives.
For some, this might mean an urge to call for no politics today. We can ask: please do not politicise this tragic event. And this is entirely understandable. There will be those who seek to profit politically from what happened in Manchester.
But at the same time, a terrorist attack is a political act. The creation of the 999 service that people called for help was a political act. The pay, training and effectiveness of the emergency services that raced to the scene was a political act. The distance required to travel to the nearest hospital, and the treatment received when injured victims arrived was a political act.
A terror attack is not simply a horrific act of murder. It is an act of politics too.
So when we begin to search for meaning amid the rubble, those inquiries are inevitably political. And people will have differing opinions on the political causes and most effective solutions. And that conversation is not only legitimate, it’s the foundation of any democracy.
As individuals, some of us choose to throw ourselves wholly over to grief. That is a personal choice, and legitimate too. What we can do in the face of these different and equally valid reactions to shock and grief is to respect each other’s right to their own reaction; and to be generous in how we interpret the spirit behind those reactions.
Hate and anger
For those of us not directly affected, there is a role to play in creating the atmosphere in which we move through these coming hours, days and weeks as a society. As parents, carers, friends, and siblings.
Fear can very quickly turn to hatred and anger. Speaking personally, this is how I metabolise fear. Often before even being conscious of fear, it has warped into something else – sadness, rage, vengeance. Something more stirring and less debilitating than terror. But it’s not healthy for me, or any of us, to stay there too long. As a mentor of mine once put it: being overcome with hatred is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
It rarely solves anything. And it can isolate us from each other. Right at the moment where we need connection so badly. And social media will inevitably contain the outpouring of scared people’s anger today.
Still no news on the motives of the #ManchesterArena suicide bomber. Must be one of those Buddhist suicide bombers we've heard so much about
— Julia Hartley-Brewer (@JuliaHB1) May 23, 2017
Yesterday I tweeted the following which I deleted out of respect. I've since received a lot of abuse. Well, I'm sorry, guys – but it's true. pic.twitter.com/1azO2Wgi4a
— Tim Dawson (@Tim_R_Dawson) May 23, 2017
And it’s human to feel that fear and anger. But for those of us on the periphery of the attacks, it’s also an act of courageous humanity to deal with ourselves. To make sure we are the calm and steady hand of support, rather than petrol on the flames.
We can do something positive in the midst of chaos
There are phenomenal ways of reacting to an attack – and they are on full display in Manchester right now.
First, immediate and practical help. If you have a free room, or need one, you can use the hashtag #RoomForManchester. People with free space are taking in those who need a bed for the night, or the week, in the wake of the bombing.
Local taxi firms are giving free rides to those who need to get around the city to visit loved ones in hospital and so on.
Men like AJ. Working his taxi free of charge through the night in Manchester. A beautiful soul. pic.twitter.com/0QG9Z2bxY9
— Jason Michael (@Jeggit) May 23, 2017
Local Sikh temples have opened their doors to provide free meals for families and friends who cannot face being alone at home, or cooking.
— Harpreet Makkar (@HarpreetMakkarr) May 23, 2017
And people are queuing up to give blood which might just save the lives of people caught up in the attack, and others.
— GiveBlood NHS ❤ (@GiveBloodNHS) May 23, 2017
And the longer term things we can do? We can talk more about those as the dust settles.
It might not feel like it, but we do not have to fix this right now. The first task we have as citizens is to support each other through this nightmare. To remember our values, and to hold to them unwaveringly. Parents have lost children, sisters have lost brothers. Those injured and bereaved by this bombing have had their world torn apart. The rest of us have a duty to hold our world together, and make it a better place for the bereaved and injured to return to from their grief. So be kind today, and be kind every day. Because the world needs more of that.
Featured image via Twitter