What strange and difficult times we live in. As we go to press, we are in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist incident in London. It seems that a man drove his car into a group of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing three, before stabbing 48-year-old PC Keith Palmer to death trying to gain access to Parliament. The assailant was then shot by armed officers. The capital and the country is reeling.
By the time this magazine is out, the government will be in the process of triggering Article 50, initiating the process that will take us out of the EU, the biggest upheaval the nation has undergone since the second world war.
The two events intersect psychologically, emotionally and politically. Parliament, obviously is the seat of government and will be the administrator of Brexit, whose campaign – whatever the facts and merits of leaving or remaining in the EU – was frequently conducted in fearmongering terms, that raised the spectre of terrorism and appealed to some voters’ worst instincts about immigration. It is an emotional and potentially divisive time.
But there’s this: we can’t choose events, but we can choose our reactions to them. We can choose what to focus on. We can choose to think of PC Keith Palmer and thousands of police officers and other members of security services who do their duty every day and who quietly provide the shield that protects us all from the actions of madmen. We can choose to think of MP Tobias Ellwood who rushed to PC Palmer’s aid, trying to stanch the flow of blood and giving him CPR while he waited for the ambulances to arrive. And we can think of all the staff from nearby hospitals who, as soon as they heard something terrible was unfolding in Westminster, ran towards it, not away. And of the crew who went to the attacker’s side and tried to save his life, because not to – to dispense with compassion and humanity as it seems, he had dispensed with his – would have been unthinkable. We can choose, in other words, to concentrate on the best of ourselves and use a tragic event to remind ourselves, amidst polarising political debate and opinions, that we always – save the extremists every generation who use various ideologies to justify their violence – have the basic human decencies that unite us all.
That means not giving into panic or despair, and not letting the voices of those who would like us to believe that one man’s actions speak for a whole community, even a whole religion, worm their way inside our heads or hearts. It means staying alert and watching for those who want to exploit any time of stress, upheaval or vulnerability for their own ends. It means consciously and actively rejecting the worst of ourselves. It’s OK to feel battered and want to hunker down for a while with family and friends. But don’t let that instinct to seek comfort in the familiar turn in on itself and get corrupted. It’s OK to find a wave of fear or despair occasionally crashing over you. Stand still. Let it pass. Don’t let the waters erode your sense of self, of right, of wrong. Do not give in.
As I write, the flag over Scotland Yard is flying at half-mast in honour of PC Palmer and the House of Commons and the House of Lords are gathering to sit at the normal time. And on we go, trying to keep hold of the best of ourselves in strange and difficult times. On we go.