Today is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist bombing of 3 trains on the London Underground and within an hour, a bus on a busy street in the centre of that city. 52 people were killed, 770 injured, several lost limbs, many had their lives changed dramatically.
Watching a documentary about the event yesterday, I was struck by how normal and calm the survivors seem 10 years later. A number of survivors and emergency service people were interviewed, all were calm as they recounted their stories
Some were a little upset as they re-lived the horror, one woman did shed a tear as she told the interviewer how she lay badly injured waiting to be rescued. Others told stories of how they worked to free and comfort other passengers despite being seriously injured themselves.
One of the most amazing was Gill Hicks. In the early part of the programme she made light of her injuries, said how delighted she was when on regaining consciousness, she could feel and move her arms. Throughout most of the interview I assumed she had not been badly injured because she was so cheerful, down to earth and “normal”. It was only at the end when it was revealed that she had lost both her legs in the blast.
The programme ended with a shot of her abseiling down the tallest building in Sydney, Australia where she lives. That was just one of the 10 huge goals she set herself for 2015, the 10th anniversary, to show that losing her legs did not mean losing her spirit.
The contrast between these survivors and those frequently seen in the media dramatizing minor setbacks at every opportunity is glaring.
Is it because most of the victims were residents of London? A case of British stiff-upper-lip stoicism in the face of adversity?
Londoners have had close encounters with adversity for hundreds of years; the Black Death, Great Fire of London, the London Blitz in WW2.
Having been brought up in a “British” environment, I know from first hand that people from the United Kingdom are more reserved in general, than here in North America. Less prone to public displays of emotion, more inclined to avoid publicity and deal with pain and loss out of the glare of the media spotlight. But I don’t think that is the only reason. There were many examples of victims and helpers quietly doing what was necessary after the Boston Marathon bomb and other incidents of terrorism or mass violence in the USA.
From my experiences in Africa, from reading and watching reports on incidents like the London bombings, it seems that when really bad stuff happens most of us have the inner strength to endure pain and shock, to do what we can to help others and get on with surviving, then improving on a bad situation.
It’s often those on the periphery, onlookers, family members waiting at home for news of missing loved ones that suffer more emotionally. That is frequently where the media look for suitably dramatic scenes to get people glued to TV screens or to sell newspapers.
Watching how people like Gill Hicks have overcome their particularly horrific experiences of adversity and gone on to live fuller lives than before is a wonderful example of the benefits of stoic philosophy. Hearing her gratitude that she still had arms instead of complaining about losing her legs, a real tonic.
Events are just that, events, neither good nor bad. Whether we remain victims to the consequences of those events or survive and benefit from them is up to us, our choice.
Makes me appreciate how lucky I am.
photo via wikipedia creative commons.