Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The answer my friends...

WRITTEN 7/7/05

I DON'T think the world has ever been such a scary place. I find it funny (that's funny peculiar, not funny ha ha) that in almost 30 years of living in N. Ireland through some of the toughest days of the Troubles, I've never felt as vulnerable as I do now.

As the news broke yesterday morning I immediately set about texting friends and family in London just to make sure they were okay. I soon found out one lady I knew from an online antenatal support group was in a panic as her son- the same age as mine- was with the childminder close to the scene of one of the blasts.
She waited almost three hours before she found out they were safe and my heart was in my mouth with her for almost all of those three hours. Her sense of panic was palpable, as was her sense of confusion. Phones weren't working, the news coverage was jumbled: no one seemed to know what had happened.
London may be several hundred miles away, but yesterday it might as well just have been a wee dooter up the road because I could understand the worry or all those waiting for news of loved ones. I sat, waiting for news myself. London may well be a big city but it's all too small when your television screen is filled with images of injured people as you wait for your phone to bleep into life.
Thankfully my cousins were quick to let me know they were fine (one didn't even know about the blasts until I texted her!). It took a little longer for my cousin's girlfriend to get the message across that she is ok, but stuck in her office building in central London over night. There is simply no way to get out of the city centre at the moment.
I sat transfixed to the Internet and to the news reports as they came in. I felt sick to the pit of my stomach because this was a random attack where no one knew where it would start or end, or how many would die and it made me realise once again that life is fragile and you never know how or when it could be snatched away from you.
I felt more sickened and more scared yesterday than I did throughout the course of the Troubles, with the possible exception of the Omagh bombing which was the first big event I covered as a journalist.
I find it amazing that news of the bombs has made such an impact on me. Like all young people of my generation in Northern Ireland we grew up in an age where it was perfectly acceptable to walk out of the door to find a soldier hiding in your pathway, or pointing a gun in your direction as you walked past.
Gunfire didn't startle us, it was something were almost used to and it wasn't a shock to hear of a bomb or a riot. Violence- terrorism- was something that verged on the normal and yet I always felt safe.
My parents made sure we grew up as far removed from the politics of the day as possible. Yes, we lived in Creggan and went to Mass like all good wee Catholics. We knew about Bloody Sunday and the history of our town but we were taught respect for our neighbours- whoever they may be. Tribalism didn't exist in our house, and it still doesn't.
I remember getting a strict telling off from daddy dearest for scoring out in pencil the London from Londonderry on a map. It was a point he wanted to make to us that even though that is not what we called it, scoring names out and vandalising property was not the way to go about making my opinion heard. To this day, I don't know why I had done it in the first place, but i knew I wasn't going to do it again!
As children we were aware bad things happened, but we didn't really let that impact on enjoying our childhoods. We still played out in the street. We still walked alone to the park or the playground and the news was something mammy and daddy watched. We watched She-Ra and trust me, that was more than enough peril for my eight-year-old heart.
But life seems different now. The threat may have moved away from our doorsteps, but somehow it has become more sinister.
Then again, maybe it just becomes scarier when you are an adult and not even the kindest of mammies or daddies in the world can shield you from the reality of a world where fanatical terrorists can strike at any time of the day, without any warning.
And now, it's actually down to me to protect my child from the horrors of the modern world. I can feel fear, but I can't show it; not to a child who thinks life starts and ends with Noddy, Balamory and Fifi and the Flowertots.
It makes me sad that my faith in world politics, my faith in the ultimate goodness of people has been tested once again. It makes me wonder how we can protect our children from the fear factor that inevitably comes with events such as these? On the positive side it makes me really proud too of all those parents who raised a generation of children who still viewed their childhood as "normal" when clearly it was not.
As this column goes to print, we don't know how many people have lost their lives or the full scale of the tragedy. But we do know the world is scarier place, and I just don't know how we deal with that, but I'm willing to listen to all suggestions.

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