The terror attack in Borough Market in London is a horrific event. I was not there and I was not impacted in any way. Yet this attack has been somehow more real than those in Manchester and Westminster. I don’t want to distract from those who suffered directly at the hands of these terrorists. Nor do I want to reduce in any way the heroism of those who found themselves in the middle of this horror.
Over the past few years I’ve found myself working in and around Borough Market and London Bridge. At lunch time I usually take myself off for a wander around the streets and as a result I’ve come to know that area quite well. Some of its residents and visitors have featured in my photography on this blog.
Maybe that’s why I feel a particular sense of horror at this event, more so than I did with the previous attacks. Though I don’t live there when I hear about witnesses in “Fish!” or people fleeing into London Bridge I can imagine myself in these places. I can see faces I recognise. Hear sounds that are familiar.
People who have no direct attachment to the attacks and yet feel a profound connectedness through familiarity and fond memories. I know it might seem glib to say, “I went there once” or “I used to have lunch down there” as if you’re somehow trying to riding on the coattails of tragedy and draw attention to yourself. Just thinking these thoughts can create unwanted guilt as we worry whether we’re stealing attention from those more deserving.
But if that’s how you’re feeling and being able to talk about your experience somehow makes you feel a little better then do it. It’s perfectly fine to feel connected to these attacks – or any tragedy – in some way. That sense of shared ownership is what binds us together as a community so we can make sense of what happened, form strategies and move forward.
I know I’ll probably feel a tinge of sadness when next I’m in Borough Market. I know some of the images I’ve taken will have a new meaning to a few people. I know if I take out a camera and start taking photos people might wonder whether my motives are different to what they were in the winter.
Which is how terrorism changes us. For all the stoicism and bravado it changes the meaning of places. It turns them from happy places to visit for the atmosphere and experience into places to pay respects or reflect on meaningless deaths. It tinges fond memories with horror, not just for those who were there, but also those who were not. It creates guilt we can’t understand or express.
At the end of the day it isn’t in the British psyche to mope around. We pull ourselves up and get on with things and we celebrate this as our “Blitz Spirit”. We tend to express emotion at the external: anger at a terrorist, sympathy for a victim. Rarely do we seem to be willing to admit we feel sad about our own losses. When we do we face ridicule at worst, disinterest at best.
I’m not sure this is a positive thing. Maybe we should give ourselves permission to feel sad at the seemingly trivial and disconnected.
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