Keep calm and carry on and the good old British stiff upper lip have their place place. But when it comes to tragedy and terrorism, a stiff upper lip is not good enough. We cannot just keep calm and carry on. We need to talk. For the sake of the mental health of a generation, we need to share our feelings.
News of the Manchester attack appeared in my Twitter feed before it broke on BBC breaking news. I guess that’s inevitable these days. Tweets reported loud bangs and screaming. At that stage, it could have been anything. It could have been nothing.
Then there was one tweet with a photograph of the foyer at the Manchester Arena and I knew it wasn’t nothing. When I woke, the full extent of the atrocity was clear.
A couple of weeks later I watched the Ariana Grande concert on the television. I sobbed, like many others, to her rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow. At the end of the concert, I switched channels to see the London Bridge attack unfolding.
At first, it could have been a drunk driver losing control of the wheel and veering off into the crowd on the bridge. Then there were reports of gun shots and again by the morning the full extent of the terror had become clear.
Then, not an attack, but possibly more terrifying, came Grenfell tower. Out of the towering inferno came stories of suffocated relatives, babies thrown from fourteenth floor windows, family members left inside, posters of the missing. The death toll rising from 7, 8, 17, 58 and still climbing. It is with fear and trepidation that I open my newsfeed to read the latest death toll.
It is now the morning after the attack on the Finsbury Park mosque. A revenge attack.
We are a nation divided and at risk.
Most of our generation in the UK are new to this. I am certainly new to this. I didn’t live through the second world war and the blitz. I am not old enough to remember what it was like to live in London at the height of the IRA campaigns. Yes, there were the 2005 London bombings and the memories of the news footage and the stories of grief are etched in my memory. But it was not, fortunately, a sustained campaign of successful attacks. I can’t recall anything as harrowing as Grenfell Tower. The Hillsborough Disaster maybe? I don’t remember much from 1989.
I am the embodiment of the British stiff upper lip. I live by keep calm and carry on. I am the poster girl of logic, rationalism and emotionless objectivity.
And yet, I walk across Westminster Bridge and I have to repeat to myself that statistically, I am more likely to die from falling down the stairs (particularly after a drink and in high heals) than I am as a victim of terrorism.
I take Cygnet into London and I have have to reassure myself that we are much more likely to be knocked over and killed by a car whilst crossing the road outside of nursery than we are to be caught up in a terror incident.
As I hesitate to open my newsfeed to read the latest on the Grenfell disaster, I berate myself for being so spineless. People have died, people have lost their loved ones, their friends, their soulmates and their relatives and I cannot even bring myself to read about it. I tell myself to show some strength, to apply some objectivity and to keep calm and carry on.
Feelings of fear are natural. Nervousness is natural. To want to block out all that is nasty is normal.
The British stiff upper lip has its place. Those of us who have been through any kind of tragedy or trauma, be it bereavement, divorce, serious health concerns, know that the only option is to carry on.
But that doesn’t mean that we have to always stay calm. That doesn’t mean we have to bottle up all of this emotion. It feels self indulgent, but our generation, which doesn’t know how to deal with this stuff, needs to talk about it.
We need to talk about how it makes us feel. We need to talk about the impact that it has on our lives. We need to talk about the anxiety and the nervousness. We need to talk about the impact that atrocities have on our lives and our sense of emotional well-being.
The British stiff upper lip, keeping calm and carrying on have their place, but for the sake of our mental health and emotional well-being, they must not be our default.