Desert Journeys 19
March 27th 2017
Amidst the events of Wednesday afternoon, in a city of sirens, helicopters overhead and blue lights, the trauma of what was happening became quite overwhelming for me at the realisation that once again London was under attack. The immediacy of the coverage of such events – the details of the casualties and their loved ones – becomes shocking as we feed on the stream of media reporting. It touches scars that cannot be seen, but that can manifest themselves in moments when we have time to allow them.
I have been on the edge of terrorist atrocities four times in my life. The first was in 1970 as a bell boy on the QE2, victim to an IRA attack. In 1973, when a bomb was detonated near the Old Bailey, I found myself driving past the incident only a couple of minutes later and being unable to comprehend what had happened. In 1996 I happened to be driving around South key in the immediate aftermath of a massive bomb in Docklands. Now this week in Westminster, the school where I work was in a lockdown following the attack near the Houses of Parliament. During the incident our school headmaster stood reassuringly present in Dean’s Yard for most of the time, as pupils’ movements were restricted. The Prime Minister spoke of the atrocity committed on innocent victims, but also of normalisation, of going about our business as usual.
In that vein I came to my church, All Hallows by the Tower, for our regular Wednesday Taizé service. Getting the tube at St James’s Park the train passed almost funereally beneath Westminster Station, the platform seeming sanitary under the artificial light, bereft of commuters. We passed silently through, but there were apprehensive looks on the faces of my fellow travellers as we thought of the devastation that had been wrought on the lives of some of those on the surface.
In the City I found my emotions becoming overwhelmed. I stopped in a café to settle myself as the day’s events overtook me. A chap in the café noticed my distress and we chatted for a few minutes before he left. He was like a voice in the desert at that moment which I was grateful for. At moments like this I find my faith gives me strength, and the well-known ‘Footprints’ prayer is very helpful. It reminds us that God is always with us and that if there are dark times when we can’t see him beside us, it is not because he has left us but because he is carrying us.