Journalist, mother feels impact a second time
By MAUREEN STAPLETON
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
LONDON -- Now it seems as though it is our turn to feel the wrath of Al-Qaida.
Less than 24 hours after being named host of the 2012 Olympics, London was rocked by bombs throughout the city's center on Thursday, leaving people scared, angry, shaken and nervous. The terror completely eradicated the utter euphoria the city felt after winning the Olympics just a day before.
I first learned about the bombings in a most 21st century way -- through a news headline e-mail. Just as I finished reading it, thinking there had been some mistake, my husband called telling me he was safe (his office is less than a mile away from one of the bombings) and urging me to put on the news.
In those first harrowing minutes, nothing was certain, except that there had been several bombs throughout the city. The BBC newsreader lists the tube stops: I have been to all of them, for one reason or another. The fact that I thought about going into the city to do a long-needed errand wasn't worth considering.
As I sit and watch the news unfold, my body begins to remember its reaction to 9/11: My hands start shaking uncontrollably, and I feel sick to my stomach. On that day in 2001, my husband and I sat in front of a television in Chicago while our nearly 2-year-old son ran around saying "Sirens! Sirens!"
Now, nearly four years later, I was sitting in front of a different television with a different 2-year-old son running around, but with the same sick feeling. Again, I think: "What sort of world am I bringing my son into?" But this time, after the bombings in the U.S. and Spain, there seemed to be a certain inevitability to the terror. It was never a question of "if" Al-Qaida would bomb London, but "when" and "how."
When I was a summer camp counselor, I spent much of my day doing head counts of my second-grade group to make sure everyone was present and accounted for. On Thursday, I did the same thing. I did a mental list of everyone we knew who worked in the city and tried to call them. However, with the mobile networks overloaded with millions of people doing the same thing, the task was difficult. We now know that everyone in our immediate circle of friends is safe, but it is only a matter of time before we learn of a friend-of-a-friend who was caught up in the terror.
With the sky gray and rain falling occasionally, the weather seemed to match the ominous mood. I heard sirens in the distance, as ambulance and fire crews were diverted into central London. Helicopters flew overhead. The streets were empty, as the police commissioner urged people to stay where they were.
In the midst of this, I had to walk over to our local Royal Park to see my 5-year-old son play in his school's sports day, an annual end-of-school event with fun and games. The children hadn't been told about the bombings, and they ran and laughed, oblivious to the terror just a few miles away.
Later in the afternoon, when I picked up my son from school, I tried my best to explain what happened. In 2001, he was too young to understand the events. But on Thursday, he could read the newspaper headline we walked past, "Terrorists Attack London -- Many Dead" and see the hundreds of people filling our local streets, walking home after the Underground and bus services were shut down.
I told him that some bombs had exploded, and Daddy was safe, but lots of people died or were hurt. The only thing he said was, "I hope none of our friends lived on the street were the bombs were." Amen.