Thousands of excited young people gathered last night for a concert in the Manchester Arena, just a couple of miles from where I am now. For some, their tickets were a birthday or Christmas present. For others, perhaps a quick break in their revision schedule. Many of those young people saw and heard things they will never forget. For them, and for countless friends and family members of those who were killed or injured, the course of their lives has changed forever
An event like this tears through the ordered fabric of our lives. We can find ourselves overwhelmed by anger, fear or deep sadness at the fallenness of our world, and the sinfulness of human hearts. If, as police are currently assuming, it was some sort of terror attack, then that was the precise intention. Random violence can’t win any followers – but it has the power to destabilise us, even those of us who aren’t affected directly. It can stoke the flames of fear or alienation.
But that response is not inevitable. Through the night there have been a steady stream of reports of Mancunians and others finding practical ways to create a different current. In this multi-cultural city, Mancunians have used social media to offer rooms to strangers stranded in the city; taxi drivers have refused to take fares; hotels and coffee shops have offered safe spaces; people are donating blood. A powerful alternative message of solidarity and hope is challenging the message of hatred and fear.
Manchester has form in this. It’s a city with a long history of resilience and recovery, of strong, creative and open-hearted community. In Corporation Street, just a couple of hundred yards from where last night’s explosion occurred, there is a red pillar-box. It was at the epicentre of the devastating bomb blast in the city in June 1996. But the pillar-box remained undamaged, and it still stands as a defiant symbol of the city’s endurance.
As the dawn breaks over Manchester, we join our hearts with all those who are grieving; those who are injured; and those who are fearful or traumatised.
In Manchester this morning and across the country people of all faiths and none will choose how we respond. For the vast majority that will mean facing down the narrative of hatred with a stronger narrative of compassion and community. We don’t deny that the world is broken, and our hearts break for those who have lost children and friends, brothers and sisters. And yet in our hopes and our prayers and a thousand acts of defiant kindness we choose again, through gritted teeth, to live against the grain of terror, so that hatred will give way to understanding, fear be replaced by love, and despair be overwhelmed by hope.