Sometimes there are simply no words. Thoughts and sentiments beat the exits of the mind, jumbling together in an incoherent mess. For the time being, no thought, no idea remotely helpful can be formed. There is no response but shock and no help but silence.
Such is the reaction I find myself locked into this week. Appalled and stunned along with the rest of the nation, I watched and listened in tears to the news as the awful experiences of ordinary people were described. Innocent people caught up in the consequences of one of the most disgraceful acts of barbarity ever committed on these islands. I’ve struggled to comprehend what could make it possible for any person, let alone one born into our own tolerant, multi-cultural society, to destroy the lives of dozens of people including children, wrecking their families, obliterating their potential. I’ve rallied to the sight of thousands gathering in Manchester’s Albert Square determined to express their solidarity and strength, their willingness to come to each other’s aid and to fight hatred with the far more powerful common bonds of love. And I’ve asked myself how it’s possible that these two extremes can so evidently co-exist amongst us; and which will ultimately shape our future most strongly.
In struggling with these questions I quickly realise that even if there are answers, I’m the least capable of finding them. These events are far from not only my experience but mercifully, perhaps that of most people. We who are spared exposure to this kind of suffering can only watch in sorrow, mourn with the bereaved, support those whose work it is to rescue and relieve, and calmly and rationally assist those whose responsibility is to prevent and protect. But perhaps the most useful thing for the majority to do is to give space to real discussion about the things which threaten peace, educating ourselves about the whole society in which we live and move and in our public conversations and debates allowing all issues to be examined that might influence the decision of a person to commit unspeakable crimes.
For now, however, I return to silence: a space in which I can by feeling the mix of horror, pity, despair, solidarity and hope reaffirm the connection I have with the communities in Manchester and everywhere scarred by brutal acts of violence. They it is who will rebuild their own cities but they can do so in the knowledge that people around the world stand with them, pray with them and will support them in peace and friendship as they strive to overcome their present darkness.