“Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do / Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too / Imagine all the people / Living life in peace.”
– John Lennon
I wasn’t there when it happened. I was at home, an ocean away. But I saw the images, I heard the words, I felt the sorrow, and I did what we all do. I put myself in the scene. I went back a year and a few months to that Christmas trip, when we danced along the pavement of Tower Bridge and photographed the grand beams leading up to a castle in the sky, as the sun’s own beams cast flares across our camera lenses. I was there for a moment, oblivious again to any movement around us. Londoners went about their day, like any day, as I imagine they did that night the Tower, one of London’s busiest river crossings, and its pedestrians and oglers and out-of-towners and lovers and nightowls and late workers… were hit.
At home in Cape Town, the Tower Bridge often appeared like a mirage to me, the way Table Mountain did in London. The same way the Eiffel Tower follows me everywhere. These landmarks that rise up above their city, making us feel safe as long as we can see their silhouettes in the distance. A constant in a sea of change.
I can only imagine that when your landmark, your lighthouse, your oracle, takes a hit, the ground beneath you feels a little less safe, a little more foreign, unsteady, fractured. It’s easy to take that on.
The same man who said, “By seeing London, I have seen as much of life as the world can show,” also exclaimed, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.” I disagree with both statements. (Sorry, London. Sorry, Samuel Johnson. The greatest man of letters in English history, my foot! Did he never see Africa?) But I’m particularly averse to his beast approach. I would raise him a quote from Gandhi in rebuttal: An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind. (Also, I’ve tried it and it doesn’t happiness or world peace make.)
The hits, the carpets pulled out from under us, they unsteady us at first but they’re opportunities to be better, stronger, more certain and more alive. It wasn’t Tower Bridge that was hit, it was the people on it. It was the city. The nation. But the bridge remains the landmark, one that can either remind us of the brutality and make us surlier and darker with each glimpse, or one that can remind us of our strength, of the many reasons to be proud, in the face of what may come; one that lifts our chins and straightens our backs as we strut and swagger under, over or beside it. Just the way we always have.
It is this pride that Ken Livingstone reaffirms in a speech in response to the London terrorist attacks in 2005, words as applicable today as they were then….
“Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others – that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. In the days that follow, look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.”
“Non violence is not the weapon of the weak, it is the weapon of the strongest. True strength doesn’t lie with a person who wins over his enemy using force. True strength lies in taking pain but still fighting for the righteous reason.” – Gandhi
“One should not fight evil by adopting it. ” – Ayn Rand