This one has got me. Usually when something violent happens in Europe I have a calm voice in my head which asks why one life nearby is worth more than one overseas. I ask why a White life is more valuable than a Black life. I ask why I feel I should be exempt when millions are affected by violence on a daily basis. I ask why Facebook pictures are updated in solidarity with France but not with Yemen, why we don’t respond to the daily loss of life in civil wars across the world, why refugees drowned in the Mediterranean do not warrant our grief or attention.
This may make me cold and uncaring up to now, or it may be that my sense of justice has been trumping empathy – whatever it was, today is different for me. My daughter is going to Manchester University in a few months, Ariana Grande played in Birmingham last week, my younger son is just the right age to go to the gig. Today, in my guts, I know it could have been one of them and it could have been me who had her heart torn out in grief and her guts wrenched with the ‘fierce pain of loss’. My Christian, liberal, humanitarian, principles are in danger of being overwhelmed by the visceral response I have to the idea that someone could deliberately harm my lovely, generous, kind and compassionate children.
Last week I was in Jerusalem traveling with Christians and Jewish people to explore the conflict in Israel-Palestine. It was a profoundly moving and hopeful visit. Some of the women with whom we were traveling shared what it was like to live in Jerusalem at the time of the Second Intifada. They had experiences of losing family and friends. (As do Palestinians) They knew what it was like to turn up at a bus-stop minutes after someone had been stabbed and to know it could have been them. They had experienced going out to dinner to find the restaurant had been blown up and friends were no more.
We met women who have lived through this but have given their life to peace, justice and shared society. Women who are waging peace, fighting injustice in court, collaborating for equality and reaching out in friendship, trust and love.
I am so grateful to you that I have had the chance to hear your stories. I am so grateful to have seen hope and perseverance in people who have chosen not to hate. I am so grateful that amidst conflict, people of peace are unbowed and unbeaten. Today I have found hope in a surprising place and defiantly, with my friends from different faiths and backgrounds, I will continue to believe in the power of kindness, compassion, hospitality and ultimately the power of love over death.
This attack in Manchester seems to have been designed to strike terror into the hearts and minds of ordinary people. We can choose defensiveness and division or we can choose to stand together, work together, pray together and love together until the day we see peace in our times.