There are some things that the mind simply cannot comprehend. The size of the universe. How many gallons of water are in the ocean. How many Mikado it would take to build a life size replica of Notre Dame.
I think there are a lot of things in life that are akin to childbirth – gruesome, bloody and painful at the time, but dulled with a peculiar amnesia. I keep trying to tell my mother that our family boating holidays are ever thus – horrific at the time and yet we still insist on going. It struck me today that my emotional response to death is similar to what I imagine childbirth is like…horrific to go through, but becoming more nebulous with the passing of time.
I saw on the news today that two female police officers were killed by some madman in Manchester. It floored me. Having worked in the justice system for the last 5 years or more, particularly closely with the police, I just can’t imagine what the family and friends of those poor women are going through right now. Even though I have experienced the sudden death of a loved one, the edges of it have become so fuzzy with that curious amnesia that I can’t really understand or comprehend any more what it felt like at the time. I tried to put myself in their shoes, pictured the faces of my friends and tried to imagine the sudden knowledge of never seeing them again, nevermore to hear their laughter or their tears. I don’t suppose my imaginings came even close to the magnitude of the disbelief of their colleagues in Manchester.
I can’t comprehend the kind of evil that would lure two good and innocent women to a house just to execute them. No matter how my brain tries to rationalise it as a sickness or a moment of madness, it just cannot make sense of it. It was premeditated. It was brutal. It strikes me that it was entirely sane in its planning. Whatever you feel about the uniform, about that particular arm of the law, these men and women of the police are not faceless. They’re not just shapeless pieces that fill out the uniform. To look a man or woman in the eye and kill them in cold blood with no particular rhyme nor reason…I just can’t understand it. I guess war is different, you dissociate, you have a cause. This? Where is the sense in it? Where is the cause? The reason? How can something so monumental happen without reason?
In many ways it’s a form of terrorism. I wonder how many brave men and women are answering calls tonight, wondering if it’s going to be their last. I know that many of my friends and colleagues will be looking at each other over the coming days and weeks and trying to imagine what it would be like if they waved them out the door and they never returned.
But here’s the thing – the way that we respond to this is what plants the seeds of hope that can stop such wickedness in its tracks. For sure, it’s a brutal and stark reminder that life is too short. But when we are looking at those around us and trying to imagine how we would feel if we lost them, it reminds us how very tangibly we love them. I know that, for a short while at least, I’ll be calling the people I hold dear and making time for them that would otherwise usually pass me by. It’s a reminder to honestly cherish those that we could not imagine life without. I heard something fascinating on the radio the other day – they were running through a chart of film scores and the presenter happened to comment that, since the start of the recession, requests for the theme tune to Band of Brothers have more than tripled. It seems that the harder things get, the more intensely we feel we need to stick together. When something like this happens that threatens to destroy a community with grief, subconsciously we close ranks and hold each other together. We are like the straw – one stalk alone will easily break, but put us in a bundle and we are unbreakable.
Terrorism, by its very nature, only works when it fills you with terror. Let it instead remind you of the boundless love you feel for those around you. Choose life. Choose love. And, in time, that curious amnesia will dull the edges of your pain and you will learn to live again.