Its been a strange week. I had a good weekend, exploring old favourites and finding new places at The Late Shows.
On Monday I broke down, complete loss of control, anxiety off the chart, unable to tell rational thought from catastrophising paranoia. I dont know why. I was sent home from work, with much care and compassion.
Monday night I stayed up late, watching the news from Manchester unfold. One of my daughter’s friends was at the concert. Luckily my daughter was able to get in touch with her and find out she was safe really quickly, before it had even been confirmed that it was an explosion. But it was clear others weren’t so lucky.
Tuesday morning saw the extremes of celebrating my son’s birthday and hearing the details of the ongoing tragedy in Manchester, deaths announced, desperate appeals for the missing, ongoing investigations. It also saw the worst migraine I’ve had for months, which pretty much wiped me out for all of Wednesday.
Thursday saw me admitting that I’m not ready to go back to work yet, and that forcing myself back before I’m ready hasn’t been doing me any good. This wasn’t easy for me to admit, I hate letting people down and I hate feeling useless. Although in the interests of honesty I probably should admit there’s also a little bit of a self-centered belief that no one can manage without me fuelling that desire to go back too. The truth is I am not indispensable at work, if I keeled over tomorrow I dont doubt I’d be missed greatly, but the work would carry on. I am indispensable at home, and I need to look after myself to continue being here for my family.
So now its Friday. I’ve barely been out of the house all week. Hardly any exercise, much birthday cake, much sleep and much pondering. My busy brain just hasn’t stopped, try as I might to slow it down. So instead I’ve diverted it, from anxiety inducing practical problems to general pondering on the state of the world and my place in it.
The thing I was most grateful for on Tuesday was that this image, from the wonderful Twisted Doodles who you really should check out, turned up in my Facebook feed just when I needed it:
What happened in Manchester breaks my heart, I am horrified by the damage one person with evil intentions can inflict. But I am hopeful because of the millions of positive reactions that came out of it. They are everywhere, from the local driver who drove my daughter’s friend all the way back to Newcastle, to the hospital workers who rushed back to work, to the people offering beds for the night or tea to the emergency services… Millions of them. I was so moved by this man, one of many who wanted to give blood and was going to walk around and smile at people.
I know that there are many places in the world where terror, bombs and needless deaths are an everyday occurance. There are people who know only too well that children are often targeted. I have a friend from Syria and I remember her speaking, some time ago, about an attack on an ice-cream shop during Eid. A horrific act, designed to target families with young children, which never even made it into the mainstream news here in the UK.
I think the contrast between our intense reporting and outpourings of emotion when it happens here, or in another western country, compared to whats ongoing in other countries, is down to a lack of imagination, not a lack of compassion. We can imagine how it feels for a sudden horrific event to turn our lives upside down. We can’t imagine how it feels to live that day in and day out, no certainty, just fear. We can’t imagine how it feels to be so desperate that you leave all you know behind and risk everything to get somewhere, anywhere safer.
I hate that this can feed into the extremists agenda, that it’s used to imply that we (white westerners) only care about other people like us. I think we do care, we just don’t understand.
I am heartened to see a lot of people standing up to the Islamophobia that always follows something like this. I know very little about Islam. I grew up in an area that was not diverse by any stretch of the imagination. It will sound very ignorant when I admit that for a long time I thought Muslim women who wore the burka were the equivalent of Catholic nuns, I remember being very confused the first time I saw a group of them with pushchairs! That was many years ago, and I am a bit less ignorant now, mainly because I know people who are Muslims now. Nothing helps dispell unintentional prejudice like talking with people, getting to know them.
We should not need reminding to see people as people first, unique human beings with a wealth of characteristics of their own, rather than lumping them together with labels. Even when it is a label they choose for themselves, it is not enough to know them by. But it seems sometimes we do need reminding of this.
My heart breaks for everyone caught up in the disaster in Manchester, and for those elsewhere who live through tragedy daily. My heart breaks for everyone whose life is torn apart by hate.
And I am hopeful. I am hopeful because I see many more acts of love than acts of hate. I am hopeful because communities are coming together and refusing to be divided. I am hopeful because people are speaking out against hate. And I am hopeful because I remember the previous Manchester bombing, of the Arndale Centre by the IRA in 1996. I remember feeling the fear that there could never be peace or safety. And I also remember Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness sitting together, laughing, making peace. It is possible.