14 July 2005

london bombings

Last Thursday it was dt day at school. We were in the middle of activity week, and had suspended our normal timetable. On Thursday, the students were divided into their houses (think Harry Potter) and were competing to create contraptions that would safely cushion an egg when it was dropped onto the sidewalk.

After break, the other teacher in Wellington came and told me that bombs had exploded on the tube. The senior students were talking about it so she'd managed to listen to the radio. No announcement was made to the students. A few had obviously heard something. I was fielding questions like, "Miss Christian, I've always wondered, just how far are we from London?" After first answering, "About an hour, S-----, so I'd guess about 60 miles," I called her back. I told her, "We're far enough from London to be safe where we are. Does that answer the question you were really asking?" All tension dropped from her shoulders and she grinned and nodded.

Parents called school with news to reassure students, but still we hadn't told them anything. I consulted with the other junior school teachers, but they didn't want to tell the students. I continued to have upset children, some in floods of tears. I reassured them as best I could. At the end of the day, when I had my own form back, I told them simply that there had been some explosions in London. I told them that there had been loads of parents calling in to say that people we loved were safe. I was able to tell one of my students that his mum was safe. Then, I told them that I didn't know what had really happened because I'd been with them all day. I encouraged them to talk to their parents about it. I didn't want them to be frightened by talk they might overhear in the carpark. They all left feeling safe that day. (Since we'd just finished a unit on life in England during WWII, a few were delighted by the idea that they might be evacuated. My denying any evacuation plans didn't damper their hopes.) On Monday, the head had a special assembly to talk about what happened.

I've struggled with the reactions in the media to this horrible event. There is a strong sentiment of "We did this better than the Americans." I heard several commentators commenting on how there was a feeling of panic during 9-11 that was conspicuously missing here. They talked about the war spirit that had returned. To my sensitive and biased ears, they seemed...proud and a little smug.

This is not only difficult for my patriotic heart to take (Ask anyone and they'll tell you that Americans are the most patriotic of all nationalities. Friends from abroad have marvelled at the number of flags they seen flying in the US. The number of patriotic songs we have-and that I can sing multiple verses of from memory-leaves them a little bewildered.) but it also confuses me. I was here in London on 9-11. I remember the outpouring of sympathy. Strangers, after inquiring about my accent, expressed their condolences. (Of course, there was also that Irish man who shouted at me that it was our own fault, that they had been fighting terrorism for years, that we, as a nation, were naive...) There was no mention at the time of how poorly we were coping.

I would like to point out a few things, merely to assuage my outrage and to fulfill my self-appointed role as ambassador to the world, repairer of reputations, defender of my country and plastic surgeon for the scars left by Ugly Americans. (That last title just came through. Rather chuffed with that one.)

  • This attack was not as visually gripping as the planes flying into the twin towers. Three of the four explosions happened underground. No one watched it. No one knew what had happened until it was over.
  • Far fewer people were killed and injured in this attack.
  • Since 9-11, we have been bracing for an attack. We've practiced what to do. On 9-11, no one expected anything like that to happen.

I am still sorting through all this. But, since so many have asked, I thought it worthwhile to share the bits I've sorted so far.

I'm safe. My friends are safe. The terrorists, home-grown by most accounts, have been identified on CCTV footage. Further terrorists are being searched for and arrested. The trains are a little slow and a bus driver did a quick walk-through of the bus before he let us board. I'm going in to London later this week and will ride the tube. Things really do seem to be back to normal.

So, that's the state of things here. Hope all is well with you!



Julie said...

Thank you for you post; traveling mercies; and please do keep us posted; and kiss me kate!

Julie H. said...

I have been thinking of you. Hope your traveling is going well. Can't wait for future blog updates.

Anonymous said...

You did an excelent job. Should have sent a copy to the London Times.

Michelle said...

reading this brought 9/11 back to me.

i live close enough to the pentagon that i could see the smoke that day.

while the people of london probably maintained more calm, you guys had time to plan what to do - we've prepared for things before, but nothing like this had even been imagined. afterwards, nations around the world started to think, plan, practice. and although what happened to your country is HORRIBLE - and i fully acknowledge that - we lost so many more than you did.

when i visited England for the first time - a year to the day before your attacks - we were constantly aware of the things we've been taught to look for. i was finishing high school when 9/11 happened so we'd been through the drills... shelter-in-place, sealing our houses off with plastic & tape, evacuations, snipers... on your metro (tube, as you call it) we were extremely nervous when we did not see the bomb-sniffing dogs everywhere.

when i woke up the day london was attacked, my heart sank. i was speechless. your losses weren't as wide as far as casualties but honestly i think it would've been harder if ours had been on the metro as that's used much more frequently.

just after 9/11, your queen had our national anthem played at the changing of the guard at buckingham palace. watching that on the internet now is so incredibly humbling... knowing we didn't stand alone while we got back up from the fall was so very comforting. when you were attacked, we wanted to be that same support for you. on 9/11 i begged God to keep my family in tact... on 7/7 i begged Him to keep your families in tact.

thanks for sharing your journey here... best of luck with your kids in the future. :-)

- michelle