I have been glued to coverage of the terror attack in London for the past few days. As usual in matters of international news, the incomparable Sky News has been a steady guide through the trauma.
In the process, some thoughts stirred up like homing pigeons by the Paris, Brussels and Nice attacks have finally come to roost, and you would favor me by coming for a ride through their journey, via some memories, and perhaps be encouraged.
Terror is Personal
Terrorism affects us all.
The attack on London this week made me flinch back to these thoughts:
Early on 9/11, I was in Boston and happened to be watching flights take off and wishing I was on a plane. Unbeknownst to us, a neighbor we had met when he sold us our oldest's first bike, sat in business class on US Airways Flight 11, where he apparently attempted to stop the terrorists from entering the cockpit. According to The 9/11 Commission Report, he became the first victim of that overwhelming day.
I was at the Boston Marathon the day terrorists blew up two pressure cookers bombs near the finish line. The man who saved the victim who later identified the culprits, lives in my neighborhood and is a familiar local figure. He's received accolades from across the nation but our small farmer's market recognized him with a basket of veg; a humble man, still surprised at being called a hero.
As with the heroics of deceased PC Keith Palmer and those who leapt to save him, there are always humble heroes in our midst when terror strikes.
As for that bridge in Westminster, I love it passionately, and took great delight in visiting there for my 25th wedding anniversary with my husband, from the States, just as one of the victims this week was doing. That spot at the foot of Queen Boadicea's chariot galloping in bronze towards Parliament—a statue a distant relative had a hand in making, of Britain's first hero who hailed from my home region in the UK—that statue for me is wonder, mixed with the sense of being truly home. Terrorists know how to strike at the heart. As I watched footage of London on Sky News, the defiant statue rose unmentioned but present in many images of the terror.
But more personally still, at the age of twelve I narrowly avoided being where an IRA bomb exploded in a London burger bar. It's a long story, but its impact on me was foundational.
Each attack—distant or near—reminds and freshly knifes the scar.
A Question that Needs Answering
I tried to write about this last year after the Paris attacks, but had only vague answers and left my draft unfinished.
But at the time I pondered:
Shock is still to be had. Such shock begs the question: How do we respond?
Quickly followed by the futility of "... and does being creative even matter?" Drawing seems indulgent when others are suffering so.
This is a question I am prone to ask often. I really need to know the answer.
As one who promotes art in all its forms and for all ages, I found myself, in the face of such horror, asking if creativity and art-making even matter? Aren't they rather trivial pursuits in the face of such suffering.
Resolve in the Face of It
The answer came as Acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner Craig Mackey, opened a vigil in Trafalgar Square yesterday:
"This [act of terror] cannot be undone, much as we would wish it, however we do get to choose our reactions ..."
And was elucidated by Prime Minister Theresa May, as she resolutely addressed the House of Commons:
"Beyond these walls today, in scenes repeated in towns and cities across the country, millions of people are going about their days and getting on with their lives. The streets are as busy as ever, the offices full, the coffee shops and cafes bustling. It is in these actions, millions of acts of normality, that we find the best response to terrorism."
In the days after 9/11, I resolved that the greatest act of defiance was to continue faithful small acts that pertained to my life. Not denying trauma, but continuing under its shadow to do laundry, feed and teach my then small children, sweep the wooden floors of our old Boston apartment, walk to the neighborhood library, read aloud bedtime stories.
And to draw strength from enjoying beauty, love and faithfulness. I had not yet developed the sketchbooking habit.
Then this week, as I listened to the UK newspaper headlines on Sky's daily press wrapup on the day of the London attack, I decided to sew a long-put-off, simple repair. The quiet act of needle and thread repairing a rift and quieting the heart.
Whether your 'demon' is depression or oppression from such news, there is value in small acts of faithfulness. Healing in themselves, they do also announce the larger intention to continue no matter what.
I'm thankful for the humbling thoughfulness that such difficulties draw forth ... Is what I'm doing really necessary? Is it indulgent?
And for the answer, called for in Parliament, spoken of in Trafalgar Square, in the spirit of staunch defiance, that small acts of ordinariness and normality matter. Which in my life now includes sketching, seeing, enjoying, looking, sharing art with others.
I may not be worthy of a statue, all flailing with bravery as Boadicea, but I can wield my pencil and brush, can quietly bear witness to the coming beauty of spring that says that summer and fall will follow, and I shall sketch them all.