For the past year or so it’s often felt as though the world has been teetering constantly on the verge of chaos and it didn’t feel so absurd to imagine some force outside of our control had decided to wreak havoc, toss everything in the air, and deal with the chips as they fell. But in reality it’s only been a feeling of turmoil, a semblance of disarray rather than the real thing. The unexpected rather than the deranged.
And then, every now and then, genuine pandemonium has momentarily held sway.
As is so often the case, when the dust settled on last week’s events and we knew the names of those who had lost their lives and the stories of how they’d lost them, there were, amidst the horror, moments that were unusually stirring.
The staff of St Thomas’ Hospital rushing out onto Westminster Bridge to give immediate care to the injured.
The emergency responders and police who ran towards potential danger, heedless of their own safety, and at the same time told others to move in the opposite direction.
The individuals, like boxing coach, Tony Davis, visiting parliament with students, along with Mike Crofts, and the MP, Tobias Ellwood, all former members of the Army, who ran forward when the threat was as yet unknown and who tried in vain to save the life of PC Keith Palmer.
The fact that members of the emergency services battled to keep the attacker alive despite the fact that, only yards away, one of their own lay dying from the wounds inflicted upon him by the man they now sought to save. Perhaps the boldest statement of who we are.
On top of all this, we were reminded of the unique ingredients that go into the recipe that makes up London when it was revealed that of the 50 injured people, they hailed from 12 different nations.
In the commentary on the days immediately following, we were constantly fed the notion that attacks like this seek to divide us. And yet we don’t need an attack to polarise ourselves – in the normal course of news, it is thrown at us that we are islands torn apart by different forces. The 52% and the 48%, the North and South, the Left and Right, the seekers of Independence and the Unionists. It seems as though it’s no longer possible to define ourselves without doing it in opposition to some other group. To say “I’m not one of them” rather than “I am one of these”. We constantly try not to be “we”. It’s time we reminded ourselves who we are.
We are the NHS, from cradle to grave.
We are rushing home to give the kids a hug. We are impossible dreams and glorious failures but still giving it a whirl. We are open windows leaking heavy dub on rare summer days. We are love of the underdog. We are London Grime. We are millions on buses and trains. We are the Pistols and the Clash. We are queuing and putting up with things. We are the sons of Jamaicans, we are the daughters of the Irish, we are the Grandkids of Indians, the children of Pakistanis, we are Ashkenazim from the shtetlekh and our lives bear witness. We are goat, rice ‘n’ peas, we are gefilte fish, we are chicken tikka masala and we are fish and chips. We are 1966 and all that and we are 1967 and the Lions of Lisbon. We are old men in pubs and we are Bowie. We are standing by our mates when times are hard. We are all faiths and none. We are Carry On films and Nicholas Roeg. We are stiff upper lips but who are we kidding. We are the Windrush docking at a sceptred isle. We are the world coming back to us. We are Fawlty Towers and Mr Bean. We are Justice for the 96. We are the Beatles and the Stones. We are council estate kids escaping through football and beats. We are Shakespeare and Morrissey. We are every colour under the sun. We are getting over disappointments and moving on. We are the Welsh Dragon and the Highland roar. We are the Falls and the Shankill, Govan and the Gorbals. We are King Arthur at the Glastonbury Festival and Men of Harlech when the chips are down. We are buying a phonecard to call our Aunties far away. We are going on a bender and a quiet night in. We are seaside camp and kiss me quick. We are The Specials AKA and UB40. We are eating cake on Test Match Special and we are former pit towns. We are pride in our communities and meeting down the local. We are Gazza, Mo Farah, George Best and Gary Speed. We are taking the mickey out of each other and ourselves. We are Remembrance poppies and the rainbow Pride flag. We are Celtic and Rangers, United and City, town and country. We are Mums kissing us better and we are Derek Redmond’s Dad never giving up on us. We are barbecues at the first hint of sun and we are meat is murder. We are the Proms and we are Mark E Smith. We are never walking alone.
We are a part of what we were but we are ALL of what we are now. We are not the sins of our fathers but we are responsible for the future.
We are the people of these islands and we are each other’s family. You are my sister and you are my brother. Together we are unbreakable.