I live around the corner from Manchester Arena. Last night, as I walked home from work, I smiled to myself at all the adorable teenage girls on their way to some concert or other. They had on their best sparkly tops, those terrible giant hair bows, pink lipstick cadged from their mums’ make up bags. Excitement was palpable as they streamed along the pavement, tugging away from long suffering parents, just kids on the brink of that first taste of independence. Last night, someone walked through that crowd of teenage girls like I did, a homemade explosive strapped to their body, and knew that some of them would never make it home.
It is almost impossible to comprehend the tragedy of what happened in Manchester Arena last night. Even listening to the sirens and helicopters from my bed, I assumed that it was a car chase or a drugs bust. Never, for one moment, did I think that someone would have attacked innocent people on my own doorstep. It is so easy for us to feel immune to these kind of events, to think that our privileged lives in this privileged city protect us from things like terrorism. Self-centred creatures that we are, sometimes it takes a tragedy like this to happen in our own community before it becomes truly real. Where we spoke calmly in my office about the attacks in London earlier this year, this morning my boss’s voice cracked as he talked to us about this attack in our own city. These could have been our children, our friends, even – had I been heading home past the arena after going for a beer, as I so often do – me.
So, what can we do? Firstly, our thoughts or prayers should be with those who have been affected by this terrible tragedy. With those whose loved ones went out last night and never came home. Those who, instead of stories told in voices high-pitched with E-numbers and excitement, of dance routines performed on the living room carpet, ended last night in a silent horror that can never be healed. Our hearts go out to them. If you know anyone that has loved ones missing, they can call the emergency line that has been set up to help on 0161 856 9400. There is also a vigil in Albert Square at 6pm tonight, if you wish to share this moment of grief with the community and show that our city will stand strong in the face of adversity.
Secondly, we can make sure that we have pulled together, both with our community and with our own loved ones. We are not immune. Our good jobs, our nice cars, our beautiful flats, cannot protect us from tragedy. This is not happening to someone else. Make sure you have called your mum. Lay all the hatchets to rest that would seem so utterly worthless in the face of real calamity. Tell all the people you couldn’t bear to lose that you love them. We are so lucky, but it’s so easy to spend our lives hiding from the hard emotions, to think that we have time to put things right. There may not be time: do it now.
I was hesitant to write this, because nothing seems so inadequate as the sound of your own voice when such an overwhelming tragedy has occurred. But if we allow ourselves to be silenced, by fear or by inadequacy, already these horrific tactics are beginning to work – beginning to win. This is a time to stand up and make your voice heard, a time to say we are not afraid and we will not be cowed. Fear and hate cannot win, because we will not let them win.