Day in, day out, taxi drivers, bus drivers, couriers fill the streets going about their business. Shopkeepers serve customers, police men and women make their patrols, Londoners are busy putting sandwiches together, making coffees, pulling pints and tourists fill every available space between these wheels and cogs that make up the city.
Our stars and heroes are mostly legends in history, or on a stage or a screen; rarely by our sides. Then something happens. Something with an almost surreal impact that pulls ordinary people into the spotlight where their courage and heroic humanity is revealed.
On Monday 10th April 2017 the funeral service was held for PC Keith Palmer. Thousands of police from forces from all over the country lined the streets with the general public to witness the procession of his coffin from Westminster through the streets to Southwark Cathedral.
Among the attendees were Met officers, and colleagues from the London Ambulance Service and London Fire Brigade who had been part of the emergency response on Wednesday 22 March. The Eulogy by Chief Inspector Neil Sawyer gave an insight into Keith. Having left the army, where he had served as a member of the Royal Artillery, Keith went on to join the Met, policing with a passion for fifteen years. In 2015 alone he made in excess of 150 arrests and was nominated for the Commissioner’s Excellence in Policing Awards as ‘Top Thief Taker of the Year’. A Depeche Mode fan, his colleagues recalled him singing his favourite song ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, as his arrest rate continued to rise.
Chief Inspector Sawyer summarised the Met’s appreciation, “His spirit will never leave us and he will remain an inspiration to us all – Keith’s blue lamp will shine bright forever. And on behalf of us all we say ‘Thank you’ – Keith made a difference and we will not forget.”
On the day PC Keith Palmer became known to us all as a hero, other people did too; a pensioner, a mother, a tourist were all killed by the attacker’s hire-car and young lovers were torn apart; one forced over the bridge and into the river.
Leslie Rhodes from Clapham, a 75 year-old retired window cleaner and Aysha Frade who had been walking across Westminster Bridge to pick up her daughters were struck down. Kurt Cochran from Utah, USA was on holiday celebrating twenty-five years of a loving marriage to his wife Melissa, when they were singled out. Melissa survived, Kurt did not. “He was always happy-go-lucky. The kind of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, a genuinely kind human being,” his friend Evan Mullaly said.
Shortly after the attack when Melissa was able to speak she espoused the philosophy she shared with Kurt, refusing to be drawn down into the dark hatefulness of their attacker, and expressed an inspirational love and compassion. Mrs Cochran’s sister, Sara, wrote on Facebook: “Kurt, you are a HERO, and we will never forget you.”
Romanian tourist Andreea Cristea and her boyfriend Andrei Burnaz were in London to celebrate Mr Burnaz’s birthday. Mr Burnaz was planning to propose to Ms Cristea later that day. Photos of Andreea, who died two weeks after being pulled from the river, show an incredible, radiant star as perfect as any Hollywood beauty. Her family described her as “the most unique and life-loving person you can imagine”, to be remembered as their “shining ray of light”.
As things stand, the names of the heroes of Borough Market have not been confirmed but we already know they come from Canada, Australia, Spain, Romania, France and London among other places. Our capital is diverse – but our collective character is singular and resolute.
The perpetrators of these things must not be elevated by attributing political or religious motivations. They are mentally and emotionally sick individuals who have failed to discover the beauty of humanity, and wallow in hate instead. They have connected with an ideology that calls out to the psychopathic, the suicidal and the deluded and have made their home in it.
There is little difference between attackers like these and gun-toting students who rampage through a school, blaming their actions on a grievance with a teacher or ex-girlfriend. They are not soldiers, they have no higher cause. They should be given no publicity and remain largely unnamed, so all of our attention can be reserved for the heroes and shining lights among us; alive, injured or dead.
With each new attack it emerges that the perpetrators were known to intelligence services and the communities had been aware of strange or worrying behaviours. Our laws that have evolved to preserve our freedoms are also protecting the enemies among us too. They need to evolve with some urgency; we must not wait for these crimes to happen before we can act, the warning signs must become crimes in themselves so we can tackle violent ideology itself.
“The after-effects of the attacks have left Britain not terrorised, but with an ever-closer community spirit
The after-effects of the attacks in Westminster, in Manchester and the assaults and murders in Borough have left Britain not terrorised, but with an ever-closer community spirit. Within twenty-four hours the people of Manchester began to re-inflate, to stand up, to stand tall once more. The people of Borough were epic in their resistance and courage, many of whom challenged the offenders with chairs or bottles, anything at hand to intervene.
Life resumes. Trains heave away from platforms again, taxis and buses weave on through the streets, coffee cups are refilled, children laugh and tease each other as they make their way home from school, tourists continue to fill every other available space. Around us, London; ancient and huge, continues to pulse like an enormous, eternal being.
It’s quite possible that in the hour of an emergency, the person who makes your coffee, drives your train, or sits at the table beside you, will emerge as a star; a hero. Look at them now, connect with them, value them – don’t wait until they are gone to appreciate each moment, each extraordinary living, loving soul.