We are brainwashed about horror every day on TV, social media, newspapers. A bomb killing hundreds of civilians does not make any more effect on us, chemical weapons used on kids don’t mean anything to our lives, we don’t interrupt our routine if gay people are tortured and killed in mass not far from our borders. Even when we get the odd terrorist attack on our lands, we have plenty of sharing to do on Facebook about our indignation or the immense sadness that is a young child being killed at a concert, but the ugly truth is that deep down we don’t really care about that either…
It is only when we know of the details, it’s when we realize we knew one of the victims very well, someone who lead the same existence as we do to the point it could have been us instead of them in those tragic circumstances, that we finally get properly the proportion of the facts we are hearing. The real terror, the nightmares, the incommensurate sense of each and everyone life’s meaning suddenly kicks into our flash, not only within our cold logical thinking as it’s been doing until now. At least that’s what happened to me in the last 24 hours.
Saturday 9th of June, afternoon, London. With such a lovely weather, my kids and I drive to one of our nearest parks where a nice festival is held, joining other mums and little ones we know as planned. Among others, whilst my children are running in the grass with their mates, I meet one of my dearest friends, B, who starts telling me how a difficult week she just had as she happens to know one of the victims of the terrorist attack on the 3rd of June in London Bridge area. I listen with compassion and concern (but nothing more) to my friend’s distressed voice when she tells me how the woman she knows, who has been severely injured by repeated stubbing in her neck and her back near Borough market, has been urgently hospitalized at Kings College that night and that after a 24 hours surgery to sew together all damaged organs, and following 48 hours of uncertainty, she has been finally declared out of danger from the doctors, literally a miracle, even if still in very serious conditions. I try to pat on B’s back to give her physical support, I avoid any stupid comment and stay connected with her pain. Until we finally change subject and start enjoying the festival and look after our kids with all their needs (food, water, games… the usual). After over an hour of leisure and small talk with other members of our friends’ group, I sit next to my friend B again.
Flash back. Thursday the 1st of June, morning, Cinque Terre (Italy). I am on a romantic weekend with my husband visiting for the first time Cinque Terre and in that moment we are doing some hiking, since our kids are staying with my family in law. We stop half way through the length of our path in the shade of a tree, to drink some water and have some rest. The weather is amazing, the land we are discovering is absolutely wonderful, we have not had a proper break without the kids just the two of us in the past 18 months: basically we couldn’t be happier. I glanced at my phone, particularly on my Facebook feed: why did I do it when the landscape around us was much more appealing and we did not need to know what the rest of the world was doing? This is my higher power’s plan, so I won’t criticize myself for having had such a superficial reflex in the middle of so much beauty, you will understand why later on. I read one of my friend B’s posts and my eye glance at a name I know in the comments that follow it.
MV? Is it possible? Yes, it is, it’s definitively her in the avatar! I have not seen her nor spoken to her in what… 10 years? Let me look at her profile pictures and covers. She has set up her own business I can see: I am not surprised, I remember her as such a strong and determined woman… She apparently has a daughter, let me check the date of this picture, 2013, her little girl is a toddler… I cannot believe it, she must have had a baby the same year I had my son! I had heard from a common friend she was getting married the same summer as I was, but we actually became mothers at the same time as well, unbelievable! No pictures of… What was his name again? N, yes, well maybe they are not together anymore, who knows, so many divorces nowadays… When I think of it, why did we actually stop talking to each other?
Oh yes, I think that annual leave request argument… I had booked my holidays until X date before her and she had booked her flight back home on the same day I was still supposed to be off. Our employer told her (fair enough) she should have checked with them before making her reservation, so she wouldn’t be able to keep that flight as I was still away that day. MV, who was quite strong-minded, would not usually take a no as an answer: she was not happy and did not have any intention to change her flight and pay extra money. What was I actually doing on X date? Nothing, I took an extra day after my vacation to rest, but I could have been back at work that day… OK, let me cancel my annual leave for my last day (X date), so she can keep her flight. What?! Not even a ‘Thank you for you flexibility my friend’?!? She is totally giving for granted my gesture of generosity and continues to insist she would have got the day off anyway (no, she wouldn’t!)? How arrogant, how ungrateful, how can I be friend to such a selfish person?!
The pain still hurts in my chest, once again I feel unloved, rejected, humiliated, as if it was happening today: it’s been 10 years but it still feels like yesterday. The subtle despise had started from there, everything became reason for harsh judgement. I realized (or used the fact that) we belonged to completely different worlds, starting from our social classes, and I began taking my distance as I was so good at doing in my twenties, every time I even just slightly disagreed on how someone would lead their life or respond to my behavior. I can see now how young, insecure and immature I was! I acknowledge the pain I was feeling at the time, it is still there and it is definitively legitimate, however this type of overreactions does not serve me well anymore, despite I was just trying to protect myself from hurt at the time… I instantly make a note to myself: when I get back to London I will ask my friend B how she knows her, probably their kids are in class together and if my kids are invited to her son’s birthday party in a month’s time, as well as MV’s daughter, I will get a chance to meet her again after so long and make amends. I can look after my pain and heal it in healthy ways today, there is no point to hold a grudge for that though: it would be nice to reconnect with her, I remember how good our relationship felt at the beginning.
End of the flash back. Saturday 9th of June, late afternoon, London. You probably know where I am getting at here by now. Whilst sitting again next to my friend B that afternoon, the memory of that question I wanted to ask her the week before when I was abroad comes back to my mind in that very moment. I start opening my mouth, as my brain’s train of thoughts is too fast to realize what is happening, and as soon as the question is out ‘By the way, I just realized last week that you know MV, how come you are friends on Facebook?’ I immediately understand MV is the victim of the attack B was talking about an hour ago… ‘Stubborn, attached to life, a true fighter…’ ‘She has her own business…’ ‘Quite petite and yet she survived the stubbing…’ ‘She is the mum of one of my son’s class mates’. How could that be?! In an instant I feel an immense anguish taking possession of my guts, I cannot explain the pain, the remorse, the sense of pettiness that invades my heart in that moment. Only 48 hours before the attack, I was thinking of that woman I had not seen in 10 years, making superficial comments about her life I spied on Facebook, remembering the pain of that argument between the two young work colleagues we were and acknowledging the anger and the unjustified coldness I had shown in my critics towards her life style and who she substantially was without really knowing her that well.
My friend B starts talking to me after confirming MV was the person she has been talking about until then and asking me questions on how I know her and praying me for confidentiality with the press (which of course I will respect). But I am not there any more to really hear what she was saying to me in that moment. All I can hear is my voice in my brain asking myself:
How dare you criticize wars, xenophobes, heartless people?! You are no different, 10 years ago you let without hesitation little things divide you from another human being, you decided it was time to stop what could have been an amazing friendship, just because you were not able to speak up your truth and explain to MV how you felt about her not showing appreciation for your gesture? Or maybe you were unable to accept she may not have wanted your help? Or you could just have understood she may have felt shy or too proud to connect with your good will of friendship towards her? Instead of giving without expecting anything in return or being compassionate towards her not realizing or not being able to accept you had just tried to help her, you used a little excuse to start despise and indifference, the worst that could come from a human being! All of this for such an insignificant misunderstanding or disagreement!
Since that news last night, I have been haunted by memories of the beautiful young woman that MV was when we first met, in fear she will be now covered in scars. I have been trapped with despair wondering if she will ever be the same person again, if physical damage she has occurred into could be irreversible, if she will have flashbacks of the violence she has lived for the rest of her life, if she will constantly live in fear for herself and her family until the end of her days. I had nightmares through the night seeing the blade of a massive knife being stubbed in my face and my vital organs. Today we spent a beautiful day in Morden Hall Park, yet I could not stop thinking she is stuck in an hospital ward who knows for how long. I did some yoga in the sun on the grass in the roses gardens with tears rolling down my eyes for my healthy painless body. Looking at my husband and kids playing joyfully I was full of gratitude we are all alive an serene and sadness for what at the same moment she and her family are going through.
MV did not deserve what happened to her, nor would I, nor those parents who loose their kids on the sea whilst fleeing from Syria, not the drivers that accidentally kill a pedestrian (no alcohol or drugs involved, just simple mistake or distraction). What surprises me is that until the morning of `Thursday the 1st of June, MV had been buried in my memories with bitterness and resentment. The unfolding of events from rediscovering her existence, remembering my understandable pain, analyzing how I had behaved 10 years before, up to a week later finding out what horrible thing had happened to her, has brought me closer and erased those feelings that are just the first steps to create hatred. As MP Jo Cox said ‘We Are Far More United Than The Things That Divide Us’.