The Motions

And so, here we are again. Mere weeks after the first ‘Brussels Lockdown,’ we are in the midst of another one. Only this time it’s different. This time our fears have been realised. This time the carnage that was originally predicted has happened. This time there have been deaths (over 30 at the time of writing, but with many more critically ill in hospital); at the airport, on the metro. Two places where we most want to feel safe, but no longer can.

One of the three terrorists from the airport is still at large. Sirens blare on every street corner. Stony faced soldiers stand watch over frightened pedestrians. No matter how much we don’t want to be, we are afraid. And we are angry. But alongside our fear and anger is something else, something far more unsettling: the total absence of shock. I can only speak for myself, of course, but when I woke up yesterday morning to see my phone going crazy with messages from concerned loved ones, I instinctively knew what had happened. And I wasn’t surprised. Not in the least.

Thankfully I had stayed at home ill (the only time in my life that I will ever be grateful for a tummy bug), which meant I hadn’t taken my usual route to work via the metro. Instead of being physically caught up in the chain of sickening events I therefore watched the horror unfold on the news and social media, where the vile reactions of people like Trump and Hopkins turned my stomach.

Today, as a new day dawned, I still felt numb. And I still do. The outpouring of sentiment from around the world is fitting for the victims, but no amount of brightly coloured monuments will bring them back. And sentiment alone will not address the threat that we are facing – which, let’s be clear, is far more than a group of radicalised people on the rampage in the name of their twisted and hate-fuelled ideology.

We are as threatened by the ignorant, yet terrifyingly prevalent, attitudes of the Trumps’ and Hopkins’ of this world as we are by the terrorists themselves. In the battle between love and hate, hate is gaining ground. But it will never win, because for every ignorant, hate-filled person there are a thousand more who can not only see the truth but whose hearts are fit to burst with love. Yes, LOVE; the one emotion that the people who are trying to threaten our freedom are incapable of feeling, and the only thing that can unite us in the face of such unspeakable terror.

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The Engagement Party

Having announced their engagement several weeks previously, Zachary Pontington-Smythe and Kazia Waverley-Bell are welcoming guests to the predictably lavish party that their respective families have funded in celebration of such an auspicious occasion. “I was starting to worry you’d never make an honest woman of her,” laughs an elderly aunt as she is greeted by Zachary and shown through to the main reception room by a member of the waiting staff. “No need to worry, Auntie,” Zachary replies, “I was just biding my time.” He smiles at his fiancé who, he notices, looks resplendent in the inordinately expensive vintage flapper dress and tiara she has purchased especially for this occasion, though he can’t help but feel the family jewels festooned about her ample cleavage elicit a rather unfortunate Christmas tree effect. She beams back and continues greeting their guests with almost childlike enthusiasm.

An hour into the party and the adult guests are well lubricated with the magnums of champagne that have been brought up from the Pontington-Smythe family vault. A vodka luge is attracting significant attention in the vast hallway, whilst the children are more taken with the chocolate fondue fountain outside on the terrace. Nobody notices Kazia’s polite refusal of a second glass of champagne, nor the way she rests her hand on her slightly burgeoning belly. Nobody, that is, except for Zachary’s eagle eyed and ancient grandmother, who sits in a corner of the room like a stone gargoyle, watching.

By ten o’clock the festivities have escalated to parlour games and sherry. Kazia has settled on a comfortable lounge chair from where she has a perfect view of the assembly. “Where’s Zachary?” someone asks, and soon the murmur passes through the room like a ripple on an otherwise calm sea. Nobody, it seems, has seen Zachary for quite some time. Indeed clarification of his whereabouts is fast becoming the most popular game of the evening. The children, in particular, jump to attention from their post-sugar rush slump and shoot off in different directions in search of their elusive host.

When, some twenty minutes later, Zachary and the parlour boy are hauled up from the cellar in an alarming state of undress and are confronted by a room full of speechless people, Kazia obligingly bursts into tears and flees the room. But not before the stone gargoyle in the corner has witnessed her coquettish wink at the drinks waiter, and his protective glance towards her stomach. “And they say the aristocracy are boring,” the old woman laughs to herself. “What utter tosh.”

Sadness, and new friends

Sometimes in life things happen that shake your faith in all that’s good in the world in ways you never imagined possible. One such thing happened last weekend, when a new friend was tragically killed in a car accident. I say “new” friend because we had only met him and his beautiful girlfriend two weeks previously, at the wedding of a mutual friend in Scotland. As fate would have it Travelodge had overbooked and as a result the four of us were selected by the bride and groom to share a luxury lodge in the grounds of a 5* hotel. The lodge overlooked a golf course and was absolutely charming. Needless to say we had a wonderful weekend, not only at the wedding itself but also at the hotel the next day, where the four of us made full use of the spa facilities, sitting in the jacuzzi and sauna for an age and even sampling the kids’ water slide (!) and the mini golf in the grounds (or rather, the boys played mini golf whilst Sarah and I faffed around in the changing rooms-standard female behaviour). When we said goodbye we vowed to meet up before Sarah and Paul went back to Australia, where they’ve been living for a year. Though we hardly knew them we felt that exciting spark of possibility, the likes of which become rarer with age. We sensed we might just have met friends for life, and it was a lovely feeling.

To say it was a shock to hear from Sarah last week and find out Paul had been killed in an accident the previous weekend would be grossly understating the breadth and scope of emotions that accompanied such tragic news. A tidal wave of sadness washed over me. Then, as the flood waters began to recede just a little, came a powerful aftershock of anger. I’ve struggled with the concept of religious faith for many years, and this has rocked the foundations of my fragile beliefs more than anything I can remember. I always felt deep down that everything happened for a reason, but now I’m floundering and at a loss for what possible reason there could be for such a wonderful human being to be taken away in the prime of his life, leaving a trail of sadness and a gaping hole in his wake.

If there can be any solace at all from this utterly tragic loss it is that we have gained a wonderful, warm-hearted and genuine friend in Sarah, and that we have seen true friendship in the coming together of Sarah and Paul’s friends over the past few days. With what little faith I’ve managed to cling onto I am praying with all my might for Sarah and all of Paul’s friends and family, that they may find the strength to get through this awful time. And I’m thanking God for having brought Paul into our lives, even though it was for such a painfully short time.

Fight hate with love

Like many I was shocked and horrified to hear of the bombs that rocked yesterday’s Boston marathon, killing three – among them an 8 year old boy – and injuring many more. When I expressed my outrage at this latest tragic atrocity, however, I was shocked when someone challenged me to explain why it was any more tragic than the almost daily bombings in Iraq or Syria.

Ever since it was asked of me that question’s been playing on my mind in a loop – in much the same way as the video clip of the Boston marathon bombs going off has been played on every network since it happened. Did I feel more sad hearing about the marathon victims than when I heard news reports of innocent civilians being blown apart in Iraq? If so, what did that say about me? Was it possible some form of racism, classism or snobbery had crept into my consciousness without me even noticing its existence? Did I, in truth, value the lives of those people in Iraq less than the lives of the marathon spectators?

After a thorough period of introspection I’m pleased to say the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Whether they lost their lives in Boston or Iraq, I feel the same deep sense of sadness, the same feeling of shame that there are other human beings capable of such terrible acts of malice and hatred against their fellow men, women and children. The Boston bombings aren’t, therefore, more tragic; not at all. But, for those of us in the western world who are fortunate not to live in war torn countries, it is more shocking. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s far less common for a bomb to go off in the middle of a marathon taking place in an American city than it is on a normal day in an Iraqi city.

And there’s another reason. We see so many international news reports featuring the images of bloodied, limbless children’s corpses and wailing men and women beating their chests with grief that we are systematically desensitised to their effects. We’re used to death in Iraq and Syria. What we’re not used to is death in our own communities – or at least not the kind of death we witnessed yesterday in Boston.

No matter where terrorism strikes it sends shockwaves through not only the community whose beating heart it strikes, but also across the world. But whilst each time they strike the terrorists may think that they are winning the fight, what their hate-filled hearts will never comprehend is that through love for our fellow men it is we who will win the war.

I fell completely head over heels with this, a tiny model scene in the wall of a toilet in a Manhattan restaurant. I think it’s quite appropriate given the end of today’s post.

On Loss

Today is the funeral of a girl I know who tragically passed away in a car accident three weeks ago. She was just 32. Although I haven’t seen her for several years, I remember her as being beautiful, funny, kind and talented – she was an actress and, I recently learned, an aspiring playwright. I can’t imagine the pain her husband of two years is going through as he struggles to come to terms with the bottomless chasm of his grief – they were together since before I knew them, so he must feel he’s lost a part of himself. I just hope that one day he (and her family and friends) will be able to look back at the many happy memories they shared with fondness rather than pain, though I imagine that will take a very long time.

Being slightly removed from the situation by virtue of the time that’s passed since I last saw them, it feels somehow self-indulgent for me to wallow in grief. But I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her since I found out. It just seems so unfair that someone with such a zest for life, who showed so much promise in her career and was such an incredibly lovely person, should be so cruelly snatched away and cut down in her prime. I know the same could be said about everyone who dies young, I suppose this is just the first time it’s been someone who I really knew, and it’s come as a terrible shock because this is normally the sort of thing that happens to other people.

When I first found out I wrote a post about trying to take what little positives there are from such a tragedy, so I’m reminding myself now to make every day count, to tell everyone how much I love them and to be the best person I can be. But somehow all those promises feel like little more than hollow reassurances today, as I think about the fact a bright star isn’t with us anymore, and the sky will be a darker place without her in it.

I’m going to close with the poem I read at my grandma’s funeral years ago, by Mary Elizabeth Frye. It makes me cry every time but I think it’s beautiful:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep,
I am a thousand winds that blow
I am the diamond glints on snow
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle Autumn rain

When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quite birds in circled flight
I am the soft stars that shine at night
Do not stand at my grave and cry
I am not there, I did not die

Rest in peace, Katy. You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten x

I chose this picture for today because it was taken in one of the most peaceful places I’ve been, Taliwas in Borneo.