I don’t often write in the aftermath of seismic events in current affairs, such as the London attacks. It’s generally just because, if I’m completely honest, I don’t know where to start. Expressions of rage feel pointless and futile, not least because these days hyperbole of that type has been co-opted by attention-seeking shock jocks and Twitterati, often over relatively trivial matters. And unless you’re a truly brilliant writer or orator, you’ll have nothing to say that doesn’t trivialise the event (such as when Donald Trump called the perpetrators of the Manchester bombing ‘evil losers’ – thanks Mr President, your erudition is inspiring.)
Likewise, despair and empathy have been hijacked by the Facebook-profile-picture-altering, my-thoughts-are-with-their-loved-ones brigade, always ready with a token gesture. It’s an understandable impulse, but as brutal as it is to say it, it’s specious and superficial. I’ve written before, in the context of Whitney Houston’s death, about the modern vogue for wallowing in ersatz grief, and social media could have been designed to facilitate it.
Partly it’s because – and here’s something nobody will admit, understandably – unless we’re personally affected, most of us have become inured to incidents like this. Especially those of us old enough to remember things like Omagh. Been there, been horrified, cauterised that part of me which can be overwhelmed by man’s inhumanity to man.
So why now? Because my eldest son was there. He was working in Borough Market as the van went across London Bridge, he saw people running for cover and heard gunshots, he evacuated the bar where he works. Friends of his who worked in The Wheatsheaf were stabbed. He was very, very close to being a victim himself. Even typing those words three days later makes me somewhat tearful, makes me anxious that I’m tempting fate admitting it. Logic becomes elusive at times like this.
In the past I’ve often wondered how differently I would feel if someone I cared about were directly involved in an incident of this type. Would all my burnished, liberal credentials vanish overnight? Would I suddenly start thinking that maybe racial profiling and internment aren’t so bad? Or would I redouble my insistence that we need to be open and welcoming to all to counter the acts of a few individuals?
Neither, it turns out. What I did was just carry on. By coincidence I had to travel to London on Sunday, so that’s what I did. I met the boy at Waterloo, where he was also just carrying on. Of course he was nervous, and concerned for his injured friends, and of course as a parent I felt every bit as overprotective as I did when he was a baby in my arms, but there he was, living his life. I’d love to say that us being there was an act of defiance or bravery or something else it wasn’t, but I can’t. You carry on because, what else are you going to do? It’s the only viable option. It doesn’t really have anything to do with not letting terrorists win, much as the media love to play it that way. It’s much more mundane than that. It’s just how life works. You trundle about, stuff happens, you rationalise it and make it part of the fabric of what made you who you are, then you carry on.
So, er, take that Islamic State! Nothing you can do will stop me maintaining my humdrum existence!