Today in the UK, I’m sure we all feel strange, slightly numb, a little scared. We read stories yesterday of a policeman killed, of a lock-down on Parliament, and security services on high alert.
I heard about what happened in Westminster via a colleague, a minute or so after my last lesson at school yesterday. We scrolled through BBC News together. A few minutes ago, I’d been making origami animals with Year 8 students, discussing 3D cinema, and the shape of the universe (yes, really). It had been a lovely afternoon until that point. It was a strange contrast – chatting away with children about nothing and everything, then to hear our capital city had suffered a serious attack.
I was shocked, but not necessarily surprised. Last year, the onslaught of horrible attacks in France made it feel like a day like yesterday was an inevitability. We’re all used to getting these tragic news updates on our phones. Strangely, I went straight from reading about the Westminster attacks to a training session that was partially on the government’s Prevent strategy. We are all aware. We know we live in strange, unsettling times.
Today is my day off, but I know that the children will be discussing it. They are very politically aware students at my tiny little liberal arts school. Even the eleven-year-olds read the news.
I was a teenager when 9/11 happened. I remember the conversations in tutor time at school the following day. We, the students, were all in a state of disbelief: we’d never known anything like it before. Our teachers didn’t know what to say to us.
Thankfully, yesterday’s atrocity was on a comparatively small scale. The fact that this assailant wasn’t able to cause more damage shows us that our country is relatively safe. The security forces were ready.
Before I’d heard this news, I’d been discussing the various forms of possible apocalypse with an incredibly clever little boy. He loves puzzles and origami, hence why he’d signed up to my paper crafts club. He reads The New Scientist cover-to-cover every week. He seemed to enjoy scaring me with stories of Bird Flu, and a modern day disaster akin to the Bubonic Plague. He then obsesses about the idea of a meteorite hitting the oceans and causing an almighty tsunami. Finally, he completes his little apocalypse spiel with the inevitability of the The Andromeda–Milky Way collision. There’s nothing like the scientific fascinations of a twelve-year-old to give you some perspective. I remember being twelve, and first discovering the vast scale of all life, of all the universe, of the possibility of the multiverse. I suppose I’m reaching for the idea that yesterday was horrible, but it wasn’t apocalyptic. We shouldn’t let it scare us.
Of course, this is of no comfort to the grieving families. One loved one’s death, particularly in such horrible circumstances, can feel as cataclysmic as two galaxies smashing a hole in time and space. The human experience of grief can be that devastating.