Picnics sitting at the base of the bridge, watching seagulls and boats glide across the River Thames; professionals, young and old, dressed in their best suits, rushing from one place to the next; tourists posing for photos with Big Ben. Strolling the outdoor markets to buy fresh flowers and baked goods in the spring and little trinkets and treasures at Christmastime. Gentle light from Parliament softly glowing across the water when the city falls dark. Listening to the chiming of time echo across the city from the most popular clock tower in the world. The giggles of children as they catch a glimpse of the street performers and the calls of their parents telling them to keep up and to hurry along. The sweet aroma of roasted chestnuts and freshly baked Belgian waffles from nearby food stands. The blur of red double-decker buses and hundreds of people crossing the beautiful bridge while the statues of the great South Bank lion, and those of brave horses and monarchs, keep watch over this special place.
I’ve always chosen the same bench to sit on in my final moments there, taking it all in, and always descended down the same flight of stairs into the Underground to catch my last train – a flight just beside the Houses of Parliament, so I can turn for one last glance back at Big Ben, as if to say, “see you soon, old friend.”
But I never anticipated it would be changed in this way.
This is no setting for an act of terror. Nowhere on this earth is a setting for such tragedy, such heartbreak.
And yet, so many cities across the globe continue to be unexpectedly changed and forever scarred on days like these. Paris, New York, Brussels, Nice, Berlin, Orlando…
I wish I had the words to say something more profound about this. To offer some deep thoughts about how important it is to remain hopeful and optimistic that the world is going to get better, if we work to make it so and believe in it hard enough.
But I feel so conflicted. Sometimes, I think it’s okay to not have the words. To be saddened, fearful, angry, hopeless. It’s always these emotions and reactions, isn’t it, that eventually drive us to do better? To believe in something more? To appreciate those moments when we feel safe and happy and free – those moments when we can take it all in and build a memory around the beauty of everything being okay and right in the world, just for a time? Yes, it may seem fleeting, but those hours and those days are real, despite the violence and evil that may, all too frequently, rear its ugly head.
I often get asked why I want to travel to the places I do, why I want to spend time in the areas of town or corners the world that I do. “An attack just occurred there, aren’t you scared?” “I’ve always wanted to go there too, but not now!” “I’ve heard that part of town isn’t safe.”
We must not be afraid.
Hang in there, London. Sending all of my love.
I’ll see you soon, old friend.