I was watching a matinee performance of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? when it happened. The brilliant Imelda Staunton as Martha was lambasting her husband for not knowing the origin of the phrase “What a dump!”, while less than a mile away pedestrians were being plowed down on Westminster Bridge and a police officer was stabbed to death. I didn’t find out about it until I turned my phone on during the interval. My dad had texted me to see if I was OK.
“There’s been an attack near Westminster,” someone behind me said.
“Oh dear,” said an older woman. Somehow those two words seemed to convey so much — “I hope everyone is alright. Though I guess it was only a matter of time before we had another terror attack. …I wonder if Martha is really going to cheat on George in the next act?”
Nobody panicked. Some people made calls to loved ones to ensure they were alright, but most people just sat and ate their tiny cups of Häagen-Dazs, waiting for the play to resume.
I admit my first feeling upon hearing of the attack was not that of fear, but of practicality — how was I going to walk home after the show? Would all the roads be closed? I didn’t have any proof of address on me to show the police if my street was barricaded. Would Tesco still be open? I needed to buy some grapes.
When the curtain rose we were once again immersed in the twisted lives of Martha and George and the outside world temporarily didn’t matter. Every once in a while someone’s phone would go off, likely a worried friend or relative trying to check in (who would only grow more worried when the person didn’t respond for two hours). But for the most part, the proverbial show went on.
Afterward I hesitatingly emerged from the theatre, mentally exhausted from essentially watching a couple fight for 3 hours, unsure of what the post-attack atmosphere would be like. The first thing I saw was a couple taking a selfie. As I made my way towards Trafalgar Square, I encountered more tourists cheerily taking photos as if nothing tragic had just happened 3 hours earlier. Past Trafalgar Square all the roads were blocked off by cones, police officers and tape, but pedestrians were allowed through. I popped into Tesco, got my grapes, and went home.
“It’s so quiet out there,” Stephen said when he got home from work. While there was the constant buzz of helicopters overhead, there were no cars, taxis or buses zooming by.
The next morning the streets in Westminster were still closed. I debated whether I wanted to go run — not because I was afraid, but because all the road closures seemed like a hassle — would I be able to get to the park easily? I looked out my window and noticed the police who were previously stopping pedestrians were now letting them through. So I went out. It was eerie seeing major streets without any cars, but aside from the increased police presence, it felt like any other day. The annoying European school groups were out in full force — some of them even mocked me as I ran in place to warm up. I smiled. London was going to be OK.
Rick Steves posted a video from 1990 on his Facebook page that still rings true today.
Europe will always have terrorists. But the chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is still statistically tiny. You shouldn’t cancel your European vacation every time there’s an attack, just like you shouldn’t cancel your flight every time there’s a crash. Of course we should mourn and honour those who were injured and killed in the acts, but we also need to keep living our lives. While #prayforLondon has been trending worldwide, the hashtag that’s been trending in London is #WeAreNotAfraid.
I’m glad I went out for a run today. It was a beautiful day. But as I was going through Green Park, admiring the fields of daffodils, a piece of a tree branch broke off in the wind and struck me in the neck. If the wind had been stronger and the branch piece sharper, I might have been killed or at least seriously injured. And just like that it all came together: pretty much anything out there can kill you — even Mother Nature herself. But that’s no reason to never leave the house. You have to be smart and alert, but not afraid. There’s so much out there worth living for.