When I woke up that Tuesday morning, it was, to all intents and purposes, an ordinary day. Except of course, It wasn’t.
As I went about my morning routine of rolling over and checking my phone bleary-eyed, I realised quite quickly that something was not entirely right. A message from my mum lit up the screen asking ‘have you seen the news??’. What had happened? I flicked to the BBC and my blood instantly ran cold.
An Explosion in Manchester. People dead. My tired brain couldn’t compute. A gas leak? A factory accident? No. Not that. Much worse. An act of terrorism. As a bleat of anguish escaped my lips, with shaking hands, I quickly called and text everyone back home to check they were safe. Then the magnitude hit.
An indescribable sorrow washed over me, a pang from some place deep within my soul.
Not just for my hometown, for knowing exactly where this atrocity took place; a spot I have set foot in countless times. But for the comprehension that this senseless, mindless act of violence set out to target the most vulnerable members of our society.
Young people, families, parents. Those full of hope, high spirits and happiness. Out enjoying a concert, embracing a ‘Dangerous Woman’, who of course never posed any danger at all, but only served as an inspiration.
Parents forced to explain to children why this had happened, why their classmates were gone. Parents whose children would never be coming home. Children whose parents were suddenly wrenched from them just when they needed them the most.
My heart left my chest. It ran through the streets, crossed rivers and miles, braved the rains to get straight back home to where it belonged.
I ached to be there, illogical, as there was nothing I could really do to help, but I just wanted to be there, with my people, in my place.
It was devastating.
But what happened next was – ultimately – inspiring. The exact opposite I’m sure of what those behind this attack intended.
Like a beautiful Phoenix from the ashes, rose the people of Manchester, imbued with a fighting spirit.
Without a second thought, people rallied around to help. Every member of the community doing what they could. Emergency services, passers by, taxi cab drivers, local residents. Messages flooding in across social media: ‘Can we help? Do you need a ride? Do you need a brew? Somewhere to stay? A phone? Someone to talk to?’.
In the challenging days that followed, fundraising efforts easily surpassed targets. School children honoured their friends through song. Moments of silence came to a close with hauntingly impromptu outbreaks of Oasis’ ‘Don’t look back in Anger’ – we will not focus on the hurt, or be overwhelmed by anger. Instead we choose love.
Because that’s just the type of folk that we are here in Manchester. Our love is far-reaching and blazes with the fire of a thousand suns.
The poem delivered by Tony Walsh at Manchester’s peace vigil said that ‘this is a place where we stand strong together’. Truer words were never spoken. Not victims, but simply people who, even in the face of great hardship, will still stand fearless and shoulder to shoulder with their fellows. The symbol of our city the worker bee, once little known beyond the North West, now a global icon, an emblem of hope in the darkest of times.
The message coming from Manchester in the aftermath of the bombing was not one of hatred, but one of unification, of solidarity. In those moments I could not have been more proud to call this community, this place my home.
As the news cameras panned over every square inch of my beloved city, and the world sat glued to their screens watching, new feelings washed over me.
Honour. Repair. Growth. Love.
With a fresh tragedy that has since transpired in our capital less than two weeks after the Manchester attack, there’s a temptation to give in to fear and to hide ourselves away. To keep our heads down and avoid public places and gatherings.
But that would be to let fear and hate win. The most self-destructive of emotions. Because the aim of such acts of violence is of course to cause panic, anxiety, and uncertainty. To divide and break us.
Now, I’m no expert, but my hunch is that we are stronger together, when as a collective, as that beehive, we say: ‘No! we wont stop living, we value diversity, expression, and freedom!’. That we scream from the top of our lungs that love will always be stronger than hate.
So to all those who have have been affected by the atrocities here in the UK over the past few weeks. In Manchester, in London, and anywhere else across the globe where these cowardly acts of terrorism are happening on a daily basis, know that we have a responsibility at this time to do the following:
We must celebrate life, and those who we hold dear.
We have a duty to be kind to each other, to be strong for each other.
To help our fellow man when he needs it.
To stand hand in hand united in the face of adversity.
Last night I watched the broadcast of the ‘One Love Manchester’ concert. I watched with pride and emotion as fingers were bent into heart shapes and held defiantly above heads. Those beautiful scenes of absolute resilience, of people healing. Their spirit unbroken.
The underlying message of the night was wholeness. Of people of all ages, faiths and races standing together and celebrating life. Every artist performing singing and speaking words of hope and peace, encouraging us all to choose love.
I watched as the sun set, with tears in my own eyes, and an overwhelming love and gratitude for my home town, but also a love that extended beyond that, to anyone else out there who wants to take a lesson from the people of Manchester on how to survive. To choose to live in a world where you can come together to celebrate all the colours of the rainbow.
Because if you chose to stand up to those bullies, to no longer be afraid, and live life to the fullest, you wont be alone. I promise you that. There’s a place for us our kid.
And this must be the place.
If you have been affected in any way by the recent attacks in the UK please visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/manchester-attack-may-2017-support-for-people-affected#immediate-support-for-victims-and-witnesses and https://www.gov.uk/guidance/london-bridge-and-borough-market-attacks-june-2017-support-for-people-affected to discover what support is on offer.