As American children’s television host Fred Rogers once said, we should “look for the helpers” to assist us in dealing emotionally with any tragedy. I need to do that now, after the suicide bombing in Manchester. My hope is that it helps you, too.
I have a variety of things ready to post, but right now I don’t want to post them.
Because 22 people in Manchester – including young children – have been killed in a cowardly attack by a suicide bomber. He struck as excited young people left a concert by singer Ariana Grande, detonating his device in the foyer.
It’s been nearly 48 hours, and the nation still feels the raw pain of what has happened.
Why should I write about how to “feel better in five easy steps” when I know you won’t feel better?
Instead, I’d rather say that it’s okay to feel like trash right now. I know I do.
We can all relate to the incident in different ways. As shocked television viewers, as residents, as parents, as relatives of Mancunians, and some even as first-hand witnesses and victims. I grew up in that city. I have friends and family there. I’ve cherished memories of my first concert at that very arena – I was just sixteen when I went.
And I think it’s fair to say I would not have coped as well as many of the brave young people interviewed about this incident.
But as writers we all now have a responsibility. And nobody can shirk that responsibility because everyone is a writer now. It doesn’t matter whether we have a social media account, a blog, or we’re a millionaire tycoon who owns several newspapers. History will judge us all on how we document what happened, and the future will rely on our collective actions.
Look for the helpers
As I write this, police are working tirelessly, trying to ensure people are as safe as possible. They are checking the links to the coward who bombed the Manchester Arena. We wait to see what they will find out.
During such times, when that void of the unknowing opens, we have a choice. We can get angry, and point our finger hatefully at whole groups of people. We can increase the terror in our minds and become more frightened or paranoid. And we can look to the academics and correspondents – many of whom are fumbling for answers and guessing just like the rest of us.
Or we can balance the record. We can look at the good things that people have done to help during and after this appalling incident.
We can look at how they have assisted those in need, how their instinct was the exact opposite of the bomber. The aim of the helpers was to spread compassion, kindness. It was to dissolve the everyday divisions that keep us apart and instead offer a helping hand.
I’m not the first to write something like this. I’m just another drop in the bucket. But, drop by drop, we can all try to balance out the hate appalling acts try to spread. We can show that for every suicide bomber there are thousands who will drop everything out of compassion and kindness to help their fellow humans. And that it is humanity that is the one overarching category we belong to, that brings us together. We should not box ourselves off or judge others by their religion, politics, background or ethnicity.
Such divisions, and the despair they bring, are what the bomber would want.
Here then is a rundown of the good things people have done so far following the tragedy at the Manchester Arena. I will keep adding to it as I learn new things.
-The tireless and fearless work of the Police
Four hundred police officers were deployed to deal with the event that night. That’s more than most of us will see operational in one place during our lifetime.
Put yourselves in each officer’s shoes at half past ten on the night of May 23. There was no information to hand at that time about what had happened. As they walked into the chaos, they would not know the scale of what they were about to see. Nobody knew if there was another bomber, or if there were other devices planted around the scene.
Chief Constable Ian Hopkins described it as “the most horrific incident we have had to face in Greater Manchester, and one that we all hoped we would never see.”
Bear in mind that this includes a bomb which levelled a huge area of the city back in 1996. Manchester is no stranger to terrorism.
And yet the incident at the Manchester Arena was far worse, involving fatalities.
But that didn’t stop the police from checking the area so medics could come in. They put themselves on the line, and they remained strong to help others.
So, although the scale of the incident was unprecedented, so was the professionalism officers had to show.
-The rallying of the Ambulance & hospital services
At the time of the incident, North West Ambulance Service said that 60 ambulances attended the incident – as well as specially-trained hazardous incident response teams. One hospital said that dozens of off-duty colleagues began turning in during the night once they had heard what was happening. As one doctor told The Guardian:
“Staff from almost every imaginable background, race and religion came together and put their all into caring for those wounded. Actions, such as those displayed by NHS staff across Manchester last night, will always demonstrate that together we are stronger.”
Subsequently, 24-hour news services have said that hospitals had to turn some staff back to keep the shifts covered for the rest of the week.
And this rallying of medics was not restricted to Manchester. Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool, which began by helping with minor injuries, helped its sister city with more serious situations the next day.
And that’s before you get to the patients. Many were were set to go for routine appointments, some awaiting procedures for some time. But anecdotally it has been said that the response from such members of the public – when told their appointment was cancelled because staff were helping the victims – was universally one of complete understanding.
-The residents who helped arena victims
The Manchester Arena is in the centre of the city, but there are many who lived close by. They turned out to offer help to victims who needed somewhere to stop, rest, get something to eat or drink or – crucially – where they could charge their phones to tell people they were okay or to start their search for missing loved ones.
In fact, so many people were doing this that it developed it’s own Twitter hashtag #roomformanchester
We are told so often that this is a nation of people who don’t talk to our neighbours, who ignore each other on public transport. I know this isn’t true, but if anything laid this stereotype to rest it is the selfless actions of those in Manchester who threw open their doors the night of the bombing.
-The homeless man who helped arena victims
It wasn’t just those with homes who helped. Chris Parker, who had been was begging on the steps of the Manchester Arena, ran into danger to help those when the bomber struck. He did this even though he himself had been thrown by the blast.
It is just another reminder that, in one way or another, we are all in a position to help people. Saying you don’t have enough money or that you’re not “in a good place” is not an excuse.
It’s also worth noting that, in a reciprocal act of goodwill, Parker has become the focus of another person’s kindness. Michael Johns has raised £30,000 and is hoping to find Parker and give him the money.
Also trying to find him is his mother, who lost contact with her son and never knew he was homeless.
-The Taxi drivers who dropped their fares and drove people as far as they needed
Taxi drivers began to offer lifts to people affected – some of these drivers came from home purely to help. Reportedly, some were driving over from Liverpool (about one hour’s drive before you hit the city centres) to bring some victims back.
Like the police and medical professions, this rallying of cab drivers is a rallying of people of all different ethnicities, of faith, of background. And we should remember this before pointing the finger at particular groups.
-The blood donors who queued
Donors formed long queues to help victims of the attack. So much so that – despite constant appeals for donors, day-to-day – this was one of the unique occasions during which hospitals have said that they largely have enough blood to help those injured during the incident.
That said, there is still an appeal for all donors to keep their appointments.
-The Twitter & Facebook efforts to find the lost
There were countless Facebook updates and Twitter posts trying to make sense of what was going on – but then, more importantly, these same people began sharing pictures of those missing in the confusion. As many will know, this did include inadvertent postings of “fake” missing people, but on the whole it was a clear attempt by those who cared to use their collective online presence to help in any way that they could.
[UPDATE] -And the social media helping a nation to heal
As you will see further down, social media has played an important part for Ariana Grande fans following the Manchester bombing. But a very British sense of humour came to the fore during the aftermath as well. As the UK Government confirmed that the UK Terror Threat had been raised to the highest level, Twitter began to show its healing sense of humour. The hashtag #BritishTerrorThreats began to lampoon our small island’s idea of what was truly worrisome for us on an average day. Twitter users began to joke about everything from not knowing what to say when the fourth door in a row has been held open for you by the same colleague – to dealing with the work experience person who has been told to shadow you for the day.
It was a very simple thing, but very helpful as we all looked on at continuously unfolding events with little we could do to help.
-The free hugs people offered
Reporters spoke to young people on the streets holding a “free hugs” sign, and a free hugs event has been arranged for Saturday in Piccadilly Gardens.
-The donors who have raised more than a million
The Manchester Evening News headed up a fundraising initiative to help those affected by the incident. It began after people started contacting the newsroom and asking how they could help. The money, via The Red Cross, will all go to help families of those killed and injured.
But that isn’t the only initiative to raise money. One fundraising effort has put more than £10,000 behind a bar for medics working at Manchester Royal infirmary so they can go and get free food and drink from the nearby pub, the Turing Tap.
UPDATE: Hollywood star Tom Hardy has also stepped forward to help The Red Cross, setting up a fundraising site that has been verified by his publicist. On his JustGiving page, Hardy has put:
I hope between us we can raise some funds as a gesture of goodwill and love to help in some small way towards repairing some if any of the damage done in the wake of last nights events.
His aim was to raise about £15,000, but so far has almost raised £18,000.
-The people being together
People turned out for a huge vigil less than 24 hours after the attack, gathering in their thousands in Albert Square. The message from those who were there is simple: we stand together, we will not live in fear.
This is important, because what the people of Manchester have done is begun to reverse the climate of fear. They have refused to be cowed in their homes and gone out into the streets of Manchester instead.
[Update] A mention needs to go to the fans of Ariana Grande, the Arianators, who have – according to Guardian reports – set up a network of familial support. Going from this report, we can learn something from these largely teenage fans. For instance, unused to internet trolls, they rebuked one by telling them “you are not a very nice person.” It is an accurate if naive-sounding statement. But perhaps we adults could learn something from this measured response. All too often, as adults, we rage back at trolls. Perhaps is it better and more mature to hold up a mirror to their intentions in such a simple manner.
I hope this helps in some way. Take care.