Something Inside So Strong

If I’m honest, I’ve encountered a bit of writers block since I first started this blog. I don’t want to write unless I have something to say; however last night saw the return of another friend, who has been in New York for the summer teaching drama at a summer camp for disadvantaged young people. Over possibly a little too much wine last night, and the inevitable ‘best bit, worst bit, toughest bit’ conversations the air was filled with, one particular story stood out to me and I was inspired about what I should write about next.

My friend flew back from New York on September 11th. Like many, she would have preferred to fly on a different date, but I guess that’s why she could get a seat that day, and not another day this week.

Anniversaries. They are significant.

It has been eleven long years that so many families have had to live without their loved one. Eleven years they have lived instead, with the heartache and pain of a life without them. Children have grown up without their parent, some will have even married or had children of their own in that time. Then there are those, now aged 10, who never got to meet Dad, Mom was enjoying her pregnancy on 10th September 2001, and then the world changed the following day. I can only imagine it was a mother’s love for her unborn child that got those strong women through their pregnancies and parenthood alone.

Until I was injured four years later, I know I found the loss of life that day hard to comprehend, almost 3000 people died that day. I knew the number, but I don’t think I understood it, not in the way I do now. The number is just so vast; I think it’s difficult for the human mind to really appreciate. Each one had a family, friends, an entire life, just like mine or yours. Gone. I know my mind only started to comprehend it, four years later as I sat in St Pauls Cathedral in London, at the first memorial for those we lost on July 7th. St Pauls Cathedral was filled with around 3000 people; bereaved families, survivors, emergency workers, politicians, The Queen. I remember looking around me, realising everyone in the building had gone through the worst day of their lives at exactly the same time. It felt overwhelming realising we all had that one thing in common; different experiences and stories but the same date and time that our lives had changed forever. But I also remember being overwhelmed thinking ‘this is how many people New York lost that day’. Every September 11th I think of St Pauls cathedral filled with people; and then in a blink of a second, empty, all gone – just as the people behind me on the number 30 had disappeared, just as those twin towers had disappeared.  There one second, gone the next.

My friend flew to New York the day before I carried the Olympic Torch this summer. We were both disappointed she would not be there to cheer me on, but it could not be helped. On her arrival at camp she pinned on her wall a picture of me carrying the torch through the rain; she told me as inspiration.

My friend had found some of her toughest moments with some of the young people, when it came to light that some of them had lost some one on September 11th. In truth, all of the young people she worked with had a challenging upbringing for one reason or another, and stories just as painful. She told me how feeling lost for words trying to support them; she had found herself at times, telling those young people about me.

Then she told me of a girl at the camp that only last year, had lost her brother. He had been shot. During the summer camp was the one year anniversary of life without her brother. She was in a lot of pain, and at camp, away from her family. This girl is a very promising athlete, and has already been talent spotted for the next Olympics in Rio. My friend showed her the picture of me, with my Olympic torch, and reassured her, she will get there, there is hope after tragedy; it can make you find strength you never imagined. She can do it, I am sure she will. I am so looking forward to watching the next Olympics with my friend, and I know in that particular sport, in four years’ time, around the 11th anniversary of 7/7 we won’t be cheering on Team GB. I know we will be cheering for the USA; we will be cheering for my friend’s student. She WILL be there.

Hearing about this girl, and how my friend had shared my story with her, reconnected me with how I felt at that first anniversary, and each anniversary since, and how the first really is the toughest one of all.

This blog is for her, and for anyone who finds themselves one year on or many years on, unable to comprehend how they feel; just like I did. I hope that even if just one person, who finds themselves in that position, finds this blog and that it helps.

I remember in that first year, people telling me I would never be the same again, I thought they were being melodramatic. Apart from the physical injuries which were being treated, I didn’t think I had changed; but the truth was I was changing. For the first four months I was numb; people would ask me how I felt about it, I would say I didn’t know; truth was I felt very little at all. No real tears, no real laughter either. Numb. Family and friends would hold me saying ‘what if?’ My mind couldn’t understand the question. It was like I had been asked to solve a complex algebra, or asked something in a foreign language. I didn’t even understand the question, never mind be able to work out the answer. I would say ‘what if’ didn’t matter. It didn’t happen. But my brain just couldn’t process it. My mind would go completely blank. That day at St Pauls Cathedral, four months later, changed that. I finally cried, properly. The emotion, the loss, the sorrow all came crashing down on me. Now I felt it, I felt the pain of 3000 people. It hurt. I wasn’t crying for me; I was crying for everyone else there and for my family, my friends, what they almost lost; I cried because I was thankful they hadn’t gone through more. I saw the pain of mothers who had lost their son or their daughter, and I was so grateful that wasn’t my mum, my dad. I knew how blessed I was, but I felt so guilty I was still here when I saw the parents of those who weren’t.

The following day, I went back to Tavistock Square for the first time. I took flowers. Standing on the pavement, and retracing my steps, I cried and cried some more. I cried the tears that should have been shed four months earlier, when there was too much danger, too much chaos to allow those tears. I went into the park, and to my amazement I found what Tavistock Square really is, and always has been – a Peace Park. Each bench, each statue is a memorial for Peace. In the centre, I found the statue I had seen from the wreckage of the bus. The statue is Ghandi. I always think he looks so sad, so knowing, yet peaceful. This brings me so much comfort, but also told me how very lost that young boy had been in every sense, to destroy all those lives right next to a Peace Park, outside a building full of doctors. Now, when I go to Tavistock Square I lay my flowers, and then I go and see Ghandi, I light a candle and we have a chat. It always helps. He gives me hope and strength.

In the following months I had an operation to fix one of my ear drums. I focussed on my physical recovery, I was very tired and slept a lot but I was determined to keep going as if nothing had happened. I went to work, I came home, I slept, and I went to work. I wasn’t in denial, though a lot of the time I found it hard to believe what had happened, but I also couldn’t imagine my life if I hadn’t been there. Things were different.

In that first year, I didn’t feel the need to seek any psychological help, though I was lucky that a counsellor at work would check in with me from time to time, and I always felt a chat with her was useful, and she did her best to prepare me for but not predict my future. Despite this, the first anniversary was a big shock to me. I remember starting to feel it coming as soon as my birthday had passed in April, by June the feelings felt overwhelming again. I didn’t understand why it felt harder. I started to ask myself how I should mark that day. Where did I belong? Living over 200 miles from London, and being the only person from my area, the protective bubble of my City far away from London started to feel isolating.

Part of me dreaded going back to London, for such a painful event; but I felt compelled. If I, as a survivor did not go to pay my respects, then how or why should I expect anyone else to remember those less fortunate as me? I had not been able to protect or help them a year earlier, but now I do feel very protective of their memory, and that their lives should not be forgotten. Survivors guilt (that’s probably another blog post all of its own, for another time)

Due to the distance, I made the journey the day before. I remember waking early in my hotel that morning, and virtually wearing a hole in the bedroom carpet as I paced the room. I felt sick, I felt sad, I felt like I needed to run a marathon just to try and burn off the adrenalin. I had never felt like that before. Now six years later; I know the drill, I’ve learned to develop coping mechanisms, and I’ve learnt to accept there will be days when that’s how I feel. I’ve learnt to be easier on myself and not to beat myself up for feeling like that. Are those feelings any less with the passing of time? Maybe, but only a little. The difference is, you learn you are stronger than you could ever have imagined. You learn to have a little faith in that strength. My friends say I’m strong, stronger than most. Truth is, I’ve just been tested a little harder than most.

At that first anniversary, a choir sang at the service, one of the songs they sang was

Something Inside So Strong

Whenever I hear that song, I am reminded of the strength and unity of survivors and families affected by Political Violence or any other atrocity in all parts of the world.

The higher you build your barriers
The taller I become
The further you take my rights away
The faster I will run
You can’t deny me
You can’t decide to turn your face away
No matter ’cause there’s

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
(oh-no)
Something inside so strong
Oh no something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice
(oo-way oo-way oo-way oo-way)
The louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho
(oo-way oo-way oo-way oo-way)
Your lines will come tumbling
Deny my place sometime
You squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly it will burn you
‘Cause there’s

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
(oh-no)
Something inside so strong
Oh no something inside so strong

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3 responses to “Something Inside So Strong

  1. Hello there, just became alerted to your blog through Google, and found that it’s very informative. I will appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  2. What I think and feel? i think you write wonderfully well, Lisa, and I look forward to reading lots more of your thoughts and insights. I agree with you about not writing a post unless you feel you have something to say to the world, but I’ve felt that way myself over the past few months – often when I’ve been busy doing various things – even just watching the Olympics, etc. I’m sure your posts will soon start to ‘flow’, and in the meantime I’ll look forward to reading more of the posts that you’ve enjoyed and have decided to re-blog. Thanks for doing that for ours. That Labi Siffre song has always been one of my favourites. GF

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