As the light streamed in through the curtains on Tuesday morning, I had a wee groan. I checked the time. 3:59am. Not the numbers I wanted to see.
More numbers appeared on my phone screen. 19. 59.
I had to re-read over and over. Were my eyes blurry from the tiredness? Or was I delirious?
’19 people killed after bombing at Manchester Arena. 59 injured.’
Numbers are a very much a part of life. Sometimes they work in our favour. Those couples who win their millions in the lottery. ‘My lucky number seven won us our millions’. Seeing endless zeroes on a cheque are numbers we would definitely like to see. Other times, numbers make us feel good. For example, getting 92% in your assignment. (absolute story of my life) Numbers can also signify a milestone, such as becoming an ‘adult’ at 18.
Yet it is the moments when you read chilling statistics that we see the dark side of the number game. Moments like 7.30 this morning with the words ’22 people now killed at Bombing’ pulsing around my mind and body. Moments like when the ages of the casualties were revealed. 14. 8. 6.
Many hours went by, but I could not unwind. The number of hours of sleep I have been getting has dwindled these past few weeks. Yet the only numbers that mattered to me were the ever-increasing death toll and the ever-declining ages of the victims.
I had work at nine, but my drive there felt much longer than usual. The radio was turned down low, but all the information I had taken in that morning was ringing in my ears. Despite this, I could only utter one word- why?
I have found that whenever I hear bad news, I am usually working the whole day on my own. As I opened the bookshop and set up everything, I found that I didn’t want to turn on the sound system. I preferred to sit and research and reflect what had happened in Manchester on Monday night. I was reflecting on all the things I did before bed. I regretted how I spoke to friends about such petty things. I regretted how I moaned about having a spot on my forehead, about having to wake up early for work, about how my friend and I couldn’t afford the holiday we wanted. I also regretted not really concentrating on my bible reading before bed.
Thinking this, I turned to the Psalms 51-53, which I had been reading. The words I re-read triggered a reaction that I never imagined possible, so much so I wanted to share them in my first public blog.
Before coming into the shop, I felt a great sense of injustice. I did not have burning rage, but I felt angry that so many innocent people my own age and younger were slaughtered doing something that so many young people do these days- going to see your favourite singer with friends and letting your hair down. I also felt sad because I knew so many people would turn on people from different backgrounds, including people who believed in God. This was on a smaller scale, but I felt that the bombing would cause so much hate between Christians and Atheists, Christians and Muslims, etc. I was at a Bruce Springsteen concert last year and he sang his famous lyrics ‘You can’t start a fire without a spark’. He is likely referring to romance, but what he says is true. It is like the Gaelic expression ‘it takes only one small spark to start a great fire’. The actions of one idealogy, one man, one bomb have resulted in the devastation of so many lives and the nation being brought onto their knees in despair.
Psalm 53 addresses similar themes:
‘God looks down on heaven on all mankind…Everyone has turned away, there is no one who does good… Do evildoers know nothing? They devour my people like eating bread, … God has scattered the bones of those who attacked you, for God despised them’.
There are times when certain anger is acceptable. Even Jesus became angry when people turned away from what was right. However, this is only acceptable when there are times of injustice. Of course we as humans feel angry when people’s lives are cut short in an act of terror. God hates evil, but has given humans a choice in how we live in this world. Psalm 52 highlights this, saying ‘Here is the man who did not make God his stronghold, but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others’. The attacks on Monday night did not stand for what is right or good. If we do not feel the need for justice, we have to evaluate a few things.
Yet on the other side, anger which stems from revenge and hate is wrong. There is a difference between justice and revenge. If someone commits a crime, they have to pay the consequences. Yet when terror occurs, we as humans find it hard not to feel hate and want revenge. Despite what people say however, deep down we are all capable of doing evil. I remember a girl once saying after a bereavement ‘The heart of man isn’t really good as we are told; every one of us has bitterness and evil inside. And there needs to be a judgment for this’. Psalm 52 draws on this; ‘You who practice deceit, your tongue plots destruction, it is a sharpened razor, you love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth.’ It is by no means saying we all want to be evil and destroy life, rather it is highlighting that if we let hate take over we are more than capable. I know there are times that I could easily have knocked someone out with the rage in my heart, or done far worse in the heat of the moment. The Manchester bombing was motivated by hate and revenge. An extremist group grew bitter towards the world and chose to cause hurt in the worst way possible. Therefore, we cannot as a society return the favour and want revenge against anyone, including the extremists themselves. Why stoop to the the level that they did which took the lives of innocent children? I do not know who coined the phrase ‘sweet revenge’, but I could not disagree more with it. Revenge is poisonous.
There was a time in our nation that bombings were almost becoming the norm, which should never be the case. The 1987 Enniskillen Remembrance day bombing killed 12 and injured dozens of others. This was at the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. People were being killed. People were afraid. People were angry. People wanted revenge. It was an ongoing cycle which only made things worse in the end. Yet one man chose to swim against the tide. Gordon Wilson and his 20 year-old daughter Marie were present when the bomb went off in Enniskillen. Sadly, Marie was killed. As I am typing, I am looking at a photo of my Dad and I at a concert in Hamden last year. I do not even want to comprehend that I could lose him. I must challenge myself to though. How would I react if someone killed my father? Or how would he react if I died in such a violent manner? Our initial reaction is to hate, because the sadness and sorrow can be too painful to bear. Calum and Rory MacDonald from Runrig sing in one of their songs ‘is this the cross we have to bear?’ Sometimes it can feel like that at many stages of our lives. Gordon Wilson, a devout Christian, did not chose to act with hate and revenge. When interviewed shortly after the death of his daughter, he said ‘I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back. She was a great wee lassie and we shall meet again in heaven. I will pray for these men tonight and every night’. Amongst the destruction and devastation, these words were reported worldwide. It was later said that no words were more powerful and more remembered in the 25 years of the The Troubles. Usually when an attack occurred, people sought revenge. It is said that people were ready to go out and commit murder after the Enniskillen Bombing, yet hearing Gordon Wilson’s words moved them so much they could not follow through. Wilson knew that if he campaigned for revenge, so many more people would die as a result. He instead became a peace campaigner, because he never wanted someone to go through what he had.
I am also looking at another photo as I type; a photo of my dear friend Millie and I at a One Direction and 5SOS concert. 60,000 people filled Murrayfield stadium that night. I am sure many people who go to concerts are thinking ‘it could easily have been that concert, it could easily have been us’. I am also reading about two friends who went to Ariana’s concert that night, with only one coming out alive. I do not even want to think about losing one of my friends like that. But if we act with hate, it will certainly happen again. We do not want bombings like this to ever become ‘the norm’.
As I continued reading, the next words I read were from Psalm 53, ‘cleanse with hyssop, purify me… create a pure heart in me’. The past two days have really shown two sides of human nature; those who have chosen to act in hate, and those in love. Although the bombing was a hateful act, the reaction of Manchester and beyond has been outstanding. People opening up their homes to strangers, taxi drivers offering free lifts, people donating money to complete strangers. The video of the homeless man giving an account of how he helped save lives has gone viral. Therefore, I have been challenged myself to cleanse myself of any bitterness of prejudice in my heart. Although I try to give money and speak to homeless people, there have been many times that I have heard them asking for help and I have walked past in a hurry for class and sometimes, even church! I feel so ashamed looking back because we often do not treat them as humans. We do not realise that they each have feelings and a backstory. We do not realise that we ourselves could be in their position.
One of my favourite quotes is from the TV programme ‘Friday Night Lights’, which is about an Americanh high school football team who deal with the trails and tribulations of life. The unlikely quarterback, Matt Saracen, who is shy and awkward tells his team mates ‘we can either win together, or lose alone’. We have a choice as a nation. We can either act in revenge or waste hours of our time on things that really do not matter. Personally, I am a supporter of gun control and of course I want places like concerts and sporting events to be safe. We have to have safety and laws in order to live in harmony as a country. But no matter how hard we try, these things on their own are meaningless. You read that right, meaningless. We can ban guns, we can ban Muslims, tighten up security, introduce new laws. Unless the heart of man changes, though, we will never truly move on as a society. We banned hand guns in this nation after Dunblane, but twenty years on children have been killed at a concert by a bomb. Donald Trump has banned Muslims entering the country, but the majority of shootings in America have been committed by white ‘Christians’. Thomas Hamilton was a local to the Stirlingshire area, not an Afghan refugee when he shot 16 primary school children at Dunblane Primary School. We do not know how Cain killed his brother Abel in the Bible. He certainly did not have guns or a bomb though. He could have done it with his bare hands for all we know. You see, if a person wants to cause harm to others, no matter what their skin colour or religion is, they will find a way to do it. We have so many questions as to why Manchester happened, why Dunblane happened, why the 7/7 bombings happened, why Lockerbie happened. Perhaps we will never know.
There is so much uncertainty in this world. As I turned off the light last night, it dawned on me that I might not wake up in the morning. We cannot control other people. Yet if we show our fellow neighbour compassion regardless of who they are or where they come from, people might feel like they belong and have meaning in the world. They might not feel the need to commit such evil against humanity. If we examine our hearts and turn to the things that really matter in this world, the hearts of others might truly change. If we as a nation change our attitude to one of love rather than hate, we have hope. Instead of the thorn bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. (Isaiah 55:13)