I was unpacking my clothes for my week-long stay in London when I began to hear sirens. My first thought was that they're like our American sirens, the tones of which go up at the end, not like the ones in Paris. I made a mental note to mention this to my daughter.
Most of the time you'll hear one siren that goes off into the distance, but they kept coming, and I thought, "Is this normal? So many sirens?" I chalked it up to my being unfamiliar with the rhythms of life in London, and got ready for bed.
I did not sleep well, waking often, for no reason, it seemed. When I gave up on sleeping and checked my phone, there were some frantic text messages from my daughter; brief, to the point and scary. "Terror attacks"
"Mama go back to the French countryside"
I texted her back to let her know that I was okay and then I checked google. A couple miles away from where I was staying some cowards decided to run a van into a crowd of people and then hop out and stab the ones that they weren't able to mow down.
Within eight minutes of being alerted, the police coordinated their response, raced to the scene, assessed the situation, found the perpetrators, and killed them all dead. One unarmed police officer fended off an attacker with just his baton. Some civilians fought back with bottles and chairs. There were moments of great bravery in the chaos.
My daughter's fear for my safety dampened my enthusiasm for exploring the city. In my younger days I would've thrown caution to the wind and defied the terrorists to include me in their idiotic plans. But instead of seeing all the sights, I planned to visit only places that I had never heard terrorists attempting to wreak havoc.
No scenic bridges or markets or important historical monuments for me, I'd limit myself to museums instead. Cowards are looking for public places in which to make the maximum splashy media-fueled impact and museums just aren't that. Plus, security guards inspect every single bag that is carried in.
One cannot plan for every eventuality. Daily life is a calculated risk. There've been times when I have been so tired since I've been here in London that I've looked the wrong way when crossing the street and could've gotten mowed down by a bicyclist, a car, or a bus. And statistically, that's more likely to happen than to die by terrorist attack.
But still, attacks are one thing when you read about them on the news from thousands of miles away and another when they happen in the same city in which you are staying and plan to be walking around. The cowards have accomplished one of their goals, because this visitor will be avoiding some of the beauty that London has to offer, opting instead for safety.
Yet anytime one travels to a new country, and a new city, one ought to be cautious. One doesn't know which neighborhoods are safer, or which neighborhoods have a little bit more edge. Situational awareness is self-preservation.
I won't let the cowards win by ruining my first and only trip to London. Like the storm that rages outside my window this morning, they may have put a damper on my activities but will not keep me cowering indoors.
There are so many great works of art in the museums that this trip will be enriching and fulfilling after all. Take that, cowards.