Another Christmas, another tragedy in Glasgow, Scotland, UK. Last year at this time, ten people died and many were injured in the Clutha Vaults disaster when a police helicopter fell from the skies into a crowded city centre pub.Yesterday, six people died and eight are in hospital with serious injuries, after a bin lorry careered out of control in George Square, the very core of the city, ploughing into crowds of Christmas shoppers, leaving carnage in its wake. We do not yet know the cause, but the driver was seen slumped over his wheel…
And yet….through the jagged tempo of tragedy, we began once again to hear the strong heartbeat of Glasgow: that steady pulse of ordinary citizens caring for one another. People called the emergency services immediately. Passers by did not run away: they ran to see what could be done to help. Other folk sat on the street with the injured, held and comforted them, waited till the ambulances came which they did with amazing speed.
Today we are all in shock here. Everyone reacts to tragedy in different ways. The first thing I did yesterday afternoon was to call loved ones who might have been in the city centre. When they answered that they were safe, I wept. Today, our visiting daughter, her partner and their lovely little girl are off to shop – in the city centre. They could have been there yesterday, as so many other folk’s loved ones were: in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
This morning I listened to Kaye Adams on BBC Radio Scotland’s “Morning Call”, responding with sensitivity, compassion and honesty to the responses of “ordinary people” to the tragedy which has touched all our lives. She admitted that she and her team had debated whether to make this awful event their focus or not.
They made the right decision: in the darkness of tragedy, the light-bringer is everything which brings people closer together as a human community to share, and to do what can be done to help and console. We heard that people were laying flowers. Lighting candles in local churches. Donating blood. Pledging to give money to the appeal fund which will be set up to help the victims. One woman said she would make a point of checking on her elderly neighbours today.
It was all intensely moving. But the overriding response of most people was: “It could have been me. Or mine…” In John Donne’s famous words:
“…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…”
Terrible events such as this, and all the other ones world-wide especially the “massacre of the innocents” in Peshawar, Pakistan, have added up to a truly dreadful week for our human community, given a sharper edge because of its being the Festive Season. In this morning’s radio programme, a strong theme running through what everyone said, many of them explicitly, was that of the sheer fragility of life. We are utterly at the mercy of random events, although preferring to live in a protective insulating bubble from this brutal fact until it is torn away by horror of one kind or another.
What, then, do we do? Life has to go on. We need to mourn along with the bereaved. We need to help them in whatever way we can. But we also need to hold fast to whatever love and joy we can find in life, each moment, each day. The previous post features a beautiful solstice celebration by poet Susan Cooper. Here are the closing lines:
“…They carol, fest, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And so do we, here, now,
This year and every year…”.
What more can we do, in this especially blood-soaked Festive Season? Despite everything, let us enjoy our holiday, be kind to one another, look forward to the coming year with its component of joys –and sorrows.
AND – many thanks indeed to all my readers and commenters. It has been an especially good year for me at “Writing from the Twelfth House”, and all of you have made it so.
700 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2014
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