Yesterday, driving back from dropping Tallulah at a party I was listening to PM on Radio Four. I love Eddie Mair. Even when the news is dire, which it invariably is, Eddie is just the person to deliver it. His interviewing technique is particularly excellent (take heed, Jeremy Paxman).
I was moved to tears last night, listening to him interview a woman called Sarah Jenkins, whose daughter, Emily was blown up in the 7/7 bombings. The phrase that came to mind was grace under pressure, and not just because it’s an Elbow song. The dignity she was afforded and expressed in the interview made it so poignant, and very powerful indeed.
Her refusal to give in to hate, to do something constructive, to make the absolute best of her situation and remember Emily not as a victim of terrorism, but simply as her daughter who died, was magnificent.
It made me think of the amazing Dan Hett, whose brother Martyn was killed last week in the Manchester bombing. I knew of Martyn because of his wonderful gesture to his mum via Twitter. Martin had asked his Twitter followers if they would buy some things from his mum’s Etsy shop after her first craft fair was a disaster and she had sold nothing. He wanted to cheer her up. Twitter outdid itself and bought everything. It was lovely, such a fantastic idea and such a brilliant response and for many of us, it embodied the absolute best of what Twitter can be. When Martyn died, his brother showed the same spirit, celebrating his brother’s life, turning hate into love, bringing the idea of unity and community to the fore and refusing to give in to anger.
It made me think of Charlotte Campbell, the mother of Olivia Campbell, another of those who died in the Manchester bombing. She pleaded with people to not let her daughter be a victim. Barely able to speak for grief, she got up, went out and addressed crowds of people, because she knew that asking for unity, for compassion, for love, was the absolute best thing she could do for herself, her daughter and her community. Her astonishing, raw speech was the epitome of grace under pressure for me.
I think of these people, these people whose lives have been shattered, irrevocably altered by brutality, and I think of how it is these people, these people who are living proof of the best of who we are and what shapes us in times of absolute horror that we should be listening to now. Not the people who are calling for hate and fear and division and locking people up and bringing back the death penalty. Not the people who go around lecturing people on the stupidity of the way they choose to grieve. Not the people who send hate mail to bereaved relatives because they feel that their moral outrage gives them licence to heap pain on pain.
People like Sarah and Dan and Charlotte have no choice but to live with what terror has done to them. What they have chosen to do with this experience that life has thrust upon them is so awe inspiring that it truly is beyond my capability to put it into words, and yet time and time again, when things like this happen, this is the message that comes across from those that are left behind. Not to hate. Not to fear, but to love and to live and to come together and there is such beauty in that it makes me want to cry all over again.