My usually packed tube to and from work was noticeably emptier on Monday morning and evening. A hoax tube terror threat, a rumour that the London Underground was going to be targeted by terrorists, was to blame. It started on Sunday night. Text messages were sent, forwarded en masse, circulated by well-meaning friends to commuters. Don’t get the tube to work, they urged, there’s a specific threat that’s been made, and extra police will be on duty. Don’t take the tube to work, they implored.
Social media was, of course, doing what it does – spreading hearsay, abuzz. Everyone knew it was a hoax. But what if it wasn’t, and they hadn’t told a friend not to take the tube? What if?
I believed the authorities. I believed the logical voice in my head.
Yet at 7.29am on Monday morning, as I went to kiss my children goodbye, I squeezed them a little tighter and held them a little longer. I sought out their eyes for a second, even though they were busy playing with trains and plastic kitchenware. I did not for one moment believe terrorists would attack the tube during my commute. But the hoax did make me want to savour my children for a few extra moments more before I left the house. It made me want to hold on to every second of ours together before we were apart for the day.
It’s probably not what terrorists intended – for a London mother to respond to a threat by reaffirming just how very, very much she loved her children, and that she would give them extra hugs and kisses one morning and promise anew to make the most of every moment. It’s probably not what they intended – for a mother before work to be struck quite vividly with just how innocent her children were, to appreciate how straightforward and primal their lives were, to understand suddenly how they knew nothing of the world’s troubles.
But that’s what happened.
(Although I went to work on Monday, I understand that fear of an attack is very real for many people. I understand completely why there were many commuters who chose not to take the tube. As I go to bed tonight, I don’t know what I will do tomorrow morning, and whether I will commute as I did today. Will thoughts of the hoax stay in my mind overnight, building up to more than a niggling apprehension? I half expect to wake up and choose to work from home because I can’t quieten the ‘what if’ voice in my mind.)
The hoax did something else for me too, in addition to making my hold my babies closer. It made me pine a little for the simpler life we once lived. In New Zealand, on the other end of the world, far away from the war-torn Middle East that overshadows every page of every newsprint in Britain, life seemed like it was lived at less of a risk.
Our existence there was less complicated. Our son was born in a country where airport staff still smiled and people travelled with ease. He would have grown up, had we not left, in a country far away from terror threats and war. He would have grown up travelling on buses and trains without having to push a fear of bombs to the back of his mind. He would have grown up in a place where parents didn’t question that they’d get home that evening to see their children. For although New Zealanders are serving at war, the country remains far, far away.
My children, however, will not grow up in a country untouched by conflict. They will grow up in a country where people are afraid to go about their morning commute. They will grow up in a country where British citizens are not allowed to return home. They will grow up in a country where families discuss raised terror threats around the dinner table. They will grow up in a country where people choose carefully the times and destinations of their holiday travel. They will grow up well versed in the categories of terror threats and what they might mean.
This is the existence I have chosen for my children and our family. This is the country, with its terrorism, its threats, its hoaxes and participation in war – this is our life.
Is it enough for me to teach my children about war as truthfully and fairly as I can? Is it enough for me to teach them also about kindness and love and compassion? They will, I fear, learn for themselves about evil. It is up to me, then, to teach them about goodness.