On the tenth anniversary of the 7/7 attacks in London, I watched the commemorations, all of which were intensely moving, but the one that most captured my attention and made me think was this speech made by Emma Craig, the young woman who survived the bombing of the tube train at Aldgate in East London when she was just 14 years old. You can listen to what Emma had to say on the link I’ve provided, while I’ve reproduced the main part of her address here:
“I struggled a lot afterwards because I was scared of being weak and admitting I wasn’t fine, even at such a young age, a feeling most people here today will have felt in some way or other. I kept remembering being terrified of stepping on the wooden slats of the train track in case the electricity wasn’t turned off. I didn’t quite understand what was happening; someone mentioned the word ‘bomb’, but that couldn’t be true, could it? I managed to hold in my tears and act like the adult I was pretending to be, until I got to the side of the platform at Aldgate and my mum rang me to check I was OK, because she’d heard that a bomb had gone off and I said ‘Mum I was there, I was on the tube.’ My mum doesn’t swear, so all I remember her saying was ‘Sugar – I’m on my way.’ Now I can’t stand up here as many have done before and say that the London bombings have had an effect on me that has changed my life positively, because it was and still is very much a part of my growing up, my childhood, my adolescence. But quite often people say ‘It didn’t break us, terrorism won’t break us’. The fact is, it may not have broken London, but it did break some of us. Sometimes I feel that people are so hell-bent on trying to make a point about terrorism not breaking us that they forget about all the people that got caught up in it, not for my sake, but for those who were killed on that day and their families – they’re the people we’re here today to remember. May we never forget.”
I’ve had some very bad frights myself over the course of my 55 years on account of physical dangers I’ve found myself facing. Perhaps the most dramatic and memorable occurred in April 1993, when I was living in Hendon in northwest London and the IRA detonated a 1,000 pound bomb just a few hundred yards away from my home one night; unless you’ve experienced a close proximity to an explosion of this kind, it’s almost impossible to convey the shock, terror and disorientation that follows in its wake, but I’m certain that this pales in comparison with the ordeal Emma underwent, because I cannot honestly imagine anything more terrifying than being in an underground train when a bomb has gone off there, for reasons I don’t suppose for a moment I need spell out.
It is understandable and inevitable that some survivors of such an attack, as well as our elected representatives, should issue a message of defiance after appalling events like these. People in Britain have articulated their refusal to be intimidated as far back as the first century AD, when Boadicea was credited with making a speech in which she vowed to conquer the invading Romans in a forthcoming battle, or die, but it’s a human characteristic that’s doubtless as old as Mankind.
These and similar sentiments are not merely noble, because they serve to embody and define the collective will of any nation or group of people not to give in to aggression and thereby lose their identity or their lives, but as we’re all unique individuals, it surely stands to reason that not everyone will be capable of displaying the same degree of resilience and solidarity in the face of a given threat.
Nearly a year ago, a long-standing friend of mine by the name of Tessa was driven to take her own life because she felt she could not face the future she glimpsed. This same future may have been accepted with a weary sigh and a resigned shrug by many others, but the vast majority of these same people would be physically incapable of emulating just one of Tessa’s feats, which was to stand as a child on her father’s shoulders as he galloped across an open field on horseback.
We are all different. For my part, I’m unconcerned about what may be written about me online, but for some others, the vile actions of trolls are enough to drive them to suicide. Some of us are broken by gossip, treachery, uncertainty, loneliness, unrealised dreams, bereavement, financial ruin, illness, despair, dread, disappointment, resentment, a sense of inadequacy, redundancy or by a host of other ills that human beings are prey to, so I have yet to meet that superhuman being who possesses no frailties or potential breaking point.
Others may take these inimical interlopers in their stride, because we’re all physically, mentally and spiritually equipped to overcome different circumstances, but when we’re faced with a soul-corroding evil that we’ve seen others somehow survive and overcome, there’s nothing quite so infuriating and galling as hearing others effectively declare that our deepest, secret fears are inconsequential and statistically irrelevant, no matter how well-meaning or well-intended those speakers may be.
In recent times, the recognition and nurturing of individual skills has become something that’s acquired a vast worldwide audience when we consider the innumerable talent shows on television, in addition to the more time-honoured processes of awarding scholarships to children or funds to innovators that show promise in a particular field. This is all to the good, because recognition like this serves to enrich our society and encourages others to follow in their footsteps, but I take the view that any truly civilised state will devote equal resources to assisting and succouring those of its citizens who have encountered a personally debilitating misfortune of one kind or another, while it’s surely obvious that an unkind Fate can strike those inhabiting any social strata.
Some of our most eminent politicians have suffered from an increasing reliance on alcohol. We regularly learn of high profile musicians and actors being driven to substance abuse as a result of the pressures of their positions, but human frailty is distributed throughout just about every profession. It should never come as a surprise to learn of a nurse or a policeman or a firefighter or a sportsman or a teacher, or a journalist, even, who tries to keep up a facade of normality when the odds are stacked against them as human beings and they find themselves increasingly unable to cope with what life’s thrown at them.
As it is, it seems to be human nature for most of us to attempt to conceal our frailties and weaknesses, even if we’ve found ourselves in a situation of whatever nature that we find intolerable, because we’re fearful of mockery or we’re perhaps ashamed of our nightmares and our perceived shortcomings. For this reason, I’m in awe of Emma Craig for her honesty and for her sheer valour in voicing her sense of resentment and frustration to the entire world, and my admiration for this young woman is unbounded.