July 18, 2005
We must move on
Ginger Wickline is a doctoral student in clinical psychology and a teaching assistant with Emory's study abroad program at University college london
FRIDAY, 8 JULY, 12:22 P.M. GMT
At 9:45 yesterday morning, we began gathering for breakfast before our last class together in the Psychology Building of the University College, London. Except for the professors, who had separate lodging, we walked each morning from our dorm to the psych building by Tavistock Square, a greenspace caddy corner (kitty corner for those of you in the South) from us. We noted a few stragglers, suffering from fatigue or late nights previous.
Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Steve Nowicki were yet to arrive by tube (Underground) train from their lodging in Notting Hill. I remember students talking that they heard the tube stations had been shut down earlier in the morning because of “power surges.”
At 9:51 we heard a blast close by, and shockwaves hit the building. We ran to the window and observed people running from Tavistock Square across the street. A few had fainted at the outskirts. We instructed the students to stay put and stay calm. We knew now, not being close to a tube station, that power surges were not responsible for the blast we heard outside. A double-decker bus sat in ruins in sight from our building.
We immediately began taking roll to see who had yet to arrive. CNN and BBC were reporting first power surges, then a handful of unexplained explosions across the city. Several students showed up in tears, having been close enough to the blast to see smoke and fire.
One of my students called moments later asking what to do.
“Get here!” I replied. She said that she could not, as police had told her to leave the area. I responded to either get here or back to the dorm—we knew nothing more at that point except that we had heard an explosion several minutes earlier. She hung up, and it took hours to reach her again, as the mobile network instantaneously jammed with people frantically trying to reach loved ones as news spread.
My husband Adam happened to be online, so I was able to tell him of the incidents and let him know I was unhurt. What a strange, darkly ironic greeting that was—telling my combat engineer husband who looks for car bombs in Iraq that I was the one facing the aftermath of someone’s “presents.” Adam commented that I was probably the only wife in the company with a firsthand knowledge of what their husbands’ job is sometimes like. We now know there were four terrorist attacks in London yesterday, three on subway trains, and one on the double-decker bus outside our window.
At the point when I reached Adam, Drs. Duke and Nowicki were unaccounted for. We later learned they had been ushered off a tube train before the Edgeware Station, three trains behind one that was bombed. Over the next two hours, we learned more of the situation about the same time as everyone else did, thanks to modern media.
We managed to make contact with all in our group, none of whom was injured, and began reaching concerned friends and family members to let them know we were all right. There were many sighs of relief, tears and hugs shared among the group throughout the day until we began dispersing around
2 p.m. We were thankful for our good fortune, and we mourned the mindless, needless pain that many people had experienced in the tragedies of the morning.
What was a 10-minute walk in the morning became a two-hour journey for some of us trying to get “home” around the vast police barricades that rapidly sprung up around our lodging area. A handful of students opted to leave for airports almost immediately, wanting some distance from the area to increase their sense of safety.
Last evening, many of the students gathered in groups to prepare meals together. We broke out bottles of wine and Baileys (remembering that drinking under 21 is legal here) and cartons of ice cream. Enjoying the comfort of each other’s company, we chatted and played games, adhering to some sort of bizarre normalcy despite the constant drone of sirens throughout the day and night.
Central London was a ghost town yesterday. Eerily, mobs of people moved in silence, slowly plodding to wherever they needed to go because other transportation was not an option. What most impresses me is the stalwartness the British people have exhibited throughout this ordeal. There was no huge wave of panic; there were no riots. People were out and moving about shortly after the series of incidences in the morning. A very clear and insistent message of “we must move on” was palpable, seeming to be on the heart and mind of every British citizen and foreign tourist alike.
Unlike the fear of flying that happened in the United States after 9/11, I watched today as the trains and buses reopened, people proudly stepped back onto public transportation, insistent that the terrorists would not succeed in causing them to live (no, hide) in fear from their daily activities.
I returned to Tavistock Square in the evening, needing to say goodbye to this place and these incidents as a way of closure. I stood at the police tape for 15 minutes and wept with anger and grief for the senseless of it. We had so looked forward in the morning to our group pictures and our group goodbyes; they had been marred by chaos and grief.
I left a piece of folded origami at the barrier along with a piece of butterfly confetti I had happened upon during my walk to the site. The metaphor of the butterfly was painfully salient to me. There would be a rebirth from the death of the day.
I remembered a question one of my students had asked me just two nights before, “If you had to describe the world in two words, what would you choose?”
I answered almost instantaneously: “Chaotic and bittersweet.”
The words repeated themselves in my brain; of course, I had not realized at the time just how true and loudly those words would soon ring in my ears.
With many tears and hugs, the students have been saying goodbye to their professors in class as well as to each other and to us, the TAs, last night and throughout the day today. I will see the last batch off in a few short hours.
In each painful moment in life, there are lessons to learn, chances to grow. While I would not have chosen this as one of my life’s learning experiences by any extent of imagination, I knew my job was to take care of those I had been privileged enough to be given the responsibility to look out for.
I know having talked to them that all of the professors and TAs, as well as some of the students, felt the same way. My only hope is that those involved in the tragedies will not lose hope or feel afraid but will take this moment with them as one they will remember and grow from throughout their lives. The story of what happened must be told. We must move on. There is no other choice.
This is an edited version of an e-mail sent out by the author.