7 July 2015

7/7 - A reflection

Ten years ago, after a couple of years living in London, I was living in Dublin and working at Microsoft while my then boyfriend, now husband, Nick lived in London and worked at NADFAS. We maintained our relationship by telephone and contributing significantly to the profits of AerLingus and Ryanair.

On the Thursday morning of 7 July 2005, Nick was running late to work and had called me after his train to Bank was diverted to Tower Gateway.  He was hotfooting it across town to his office which was located just around the corner from Russell Square and thought he'd fill the time by chatting to me sitting at my desk across the Irish sea.

He was hoping to jump on a bus if one came by but doubted his chances due to the volume of people being spewed up onto the streets due to closed train stations. We chatted for a few minutes, idly speculating about the train diversions and the other kind of irrelevancies people discuss with their lovers on an ordinary morning.

It was a number of hours before I spoke to Nick again. Shortly after I flicked between my work screen to the BBC news and read the first reports about a bomb on a bus in Russell Square.

I can still recall the sick feeling in my stomach when I read about the bus - described as 'packed with people' diverted from the trains.  I started dialling Nick's number, desperate to connect with him and hear that he'd relied on the good fortune of an understanding boss and stuck to walking rather than catching a bus.  But nothing.

The phone lines were down. Or jammed. Or hijacked.

The simple fact was I had no idea what was going on beyond what I could find on the internet.

Conversation flowed between me and my colleagues as we sat glued to the news sites.  My colleague G (who had a younger brother and two sisters living in London) and I fretted.  He started dialling their numbers too. We joked about what they were doing instead of calling us to reassure us that they were okay. G joked that his younger brother had probably headed straight for the pub with his mates, excited about an unexpected day off.

To begin with, we only knew about the bus.  As the news about the trains started emerging, our fairly nonchalant conversations became peppered with some very black humour as we attempted to cover up the fact that while we knew the chances of them being hurt were slim, we didn't actually know.

And that not knowing was gut wrenching. The knowledge that you could do nothing but wait was paralysing.  It is not a feeling I have experienced before and I never want to experience it again.

Finally Nick called. His work had been evacuated. He was fine but he couldn't talk for long as he needed to free up the line for his colleagues to ring people. He loved me but he was fine.

I cried and cried and cried.  So much relief.  And guilty with it.  Because the scope of the disaster was becoming very real and I knew that there were many who were not going to to be so lucky.  G located one sister. And then the other.  But still no news of his brother.

I had a very odd woman as a boss then, she could not understand why I cried so much that day or why G would worry without what she considered proper cause.  "But he's fine, she said of Nick. He's going to be fine, she said of the brother", and drew my attention to some deadlines for the day.  G kept trying his brother's number. Until he got a call to say that his brother had been in the same carriage as one of the bombers.  He was hurt but he was alive in a London hospital.

I felt visceral anguish for G and his family because it could have just as easily that day been Nick's family getting that call. He and his mother were unable to go to his brother because all flights and ferries were banned until further notice in and out of England.  He had to rely on news bulletins and the kindness of friends and strangers to care for his brother and support his sisters until he could be there.

Other friends and former colleagues were on the trains that day.  One was evacuated from a bombed train and despite a head injury walked 2.5 hours home because he knew his pregnant wife would be worried.  Another spent hours sitting in a train waiting to be evacuated and then had to walk past the bombed carriage to leave and can never unsee what they saw that day.  The stories multiplied - London might be big but the centre of it is quite small.

So many lives that day hinged on the complete random occurrences of missed trains, waking early, sleeping in, having to queue for a ticket, spilling their coffee on their jackets, arguments with partners, sickies, popping to work to finish one last thing before holidays, delayed connections, people pushing ahead of them in the line.

I am not in anyway trying to compare what I felt that day with the feelings and experiences of the people that experienced the bombings personally, or were impacted by the death and injuries of their family and friends. I do not assume to understand how they felt then, or how they feel now. I honour their courage and their rage and their pain and all the details that make up each and every story.

But 7/7 was in a small but definite way, a life changing day for me.  It reinforced for me how much of life was down to chance. It underscored for me how strongly I felt about Nick. It showed me how resilient and supportive people could be in the face of uncertainty and hate. It filled me with a deep and lasting sadness that people continue to justify violence by hate, and it made me love London, and the seething mess of humanity within, even more than I did.

I even moved back later that year.

But most of all, ten years on, I do live more empathically.

Despite occasional acts of hateful madness manifested by extremists in the countries I have lived in I have not had the misfortune to lose somebody through acts of hate and violence. I do not live daily with bombs and gunfire. I go to sleep knowing where my children are and that they are safe. I do not live with pain. I do not live a fearful life.

I try to live purposefully in that lucky life. I acknowledge that I am not more deserving. I am not more loved. I am not a better person. I am not, in any way, MORE than any other person.  Nor less.

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