With three terrorist attacks in three months, and the UK’s threat level at critical, this is probably the scariest, most dangerous time I have ever lived through. And you’d be excused for assuming that the country would be in complete panic, the city streets would be empty, travel at an all time low, that we would all be barricading ourselves in our homes and wringing our hands with worry. And yet, for the most part, the general consensus appears to be that by doing so, we are letting them win.
I have lost count of the number of times over the last few months I have been told to, “Carry on as normal!”, “Stand up to them!”, “Show them we aren’t scared!”. My social media is flooded with hashtags, #WeStandUnited #LoveNotHate #InThisTogether, the sharing of quotes, messages of hope, the reminder to look for the helpers, for the positives, the undying belief that in the end, love will win.
And yet the truth is that right now, as a Mother, I just can’t see it.
I wake each morning with a deep knot of fear in my belly, I can’t turn on the TV or open a newspaper without fighting back the tears at the horrors which await us, I can’t go about my daily life without the worry that these terrorists could strike at any time, completely at random. I struggle with the concept of standing united when I’m scared that my neighbour who stops to chat about the weather, that the lady who serves me in the shop or the man I pass in the street, may secretly be plotting these evil crimes of hate. I find it impossible to believe that our police will protect us when these terrorist are already on their radar, flaunting their beliefs in documentaries, being flagged up by their own friends and family, and yet still roaming the streets free to kill.
And I won’t lie to you, I’m scared. Completely and utterly terrified.
And my fear doesn’t end at the thought of another attack, but extends to the fact that hate breeds hate, and already I am seeing so much of it. I have been shocked and saddened to read racist slurs as I scroll through my newsfeed each morning, to see friends turning on each other over conflicting beliefs, to see a level of ignorance which astounds me. I see well educated, seemingly decent people, calling for all Muslims to be extradited, for them to be shipped out to Syria, their passports destroyed, and left there to face the aftermath. And my heart breaks for the hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our country who are good, honest, decent people. What a scary place our world must seem at this time, how lonely they must feel in their own country, how utterly devastated they must be that a small minority have brought such shame on their religion.
It feels as though with every new attack, with every tragedy reported, the rebound effect can be felt right across the globe. I see politicians using the terrorist attacks as ammunition against each other, our relationships with other world leaders at an all time low, the constant threat of retaliation lingering over our heads.
And I have nothing but admiration for the bravery of others, the fact that they refuse to be scared, that they still get up every single morning, and go about their daily lives, walk the streets of London, attend concerts and crowded places, travel the world without fear or panic. I admire the strength of the victims, the Londoners who fled for their lives just one week ago, back in work, commuting across London bridge, standing proudly at Westminster, strong and defiant in a city they love. I have the utmost respect for the Manchester bombing victims, those who pushed their fears aside and attended the One Love concert last weekend, the stars who flocked to show their support, the way that the city has come together to show love, support and courage.
And I wish that I could be like that, I really do.
But all of a sudden it feels as though we are all expected to feel this way, and admitting to feeling scared is met with derision. “It’s the safest time to travel!” a friend told me, when I mentioned that we had changed our plans to London earlier this year. “You’re letting them win!” one said, when we cancelled our plans to a Manchester theatre. “You’re setting a bad example to the children!” one told me, when I shared my fear of tourist attractions. “You’re more likely to be knocked down by a bus!” someone snorted, belittling my fears with their own bravery. And that may well be the truth, and I really hope that it is, but please allow me to do what is right for my family, what is right for my own mental health, however much you may see it as defeat.
Last weekend as we sat glued to our screens, watching the news footage of the horrors unfolding in London, where people ran for their lives, the sound of screams and sirens and absolute panic reverberated into our living room, the saddest question of all came from Lewis who, at just thirteen, asked me, “Why are they doing this Mum?”. And I wish that I had the answers, that I could promise him that his future would be wonderful and our country free of conflict, that I could assure him he was safe, that there was nothing at all to be scared of. And yet I have no answers, I have no words of reassurance or hope, I have no way of promising my children that I will protect them from these evil acts of hate.
And out of everything, that terrifies me the most.
And so if being scared means that they have won, I’ll give them their victory. If being more cautious, reining in our lives and allowing their actions to change our plans for the future means that I have admitted defeat, then I hold up my hands and admit it. Because there is nothing I wouldn’t do to protect my children, no limit to the lengths I would go to in order to keep them safe, and yet in the face of adversity, when the crimes are so nonsensical, all I can do is make sensible choices for my family, hold them a little tighter, reassure them wherever possible, and remind myself that nothing lasts forever.
Not even this.