We live in a world of joy and sadness, good and evil.
Over the past few months that truth has been brought home to me with the terrorist attacks beginning with that at Westminster on 22 March, then two months later in Manchester, the London Bridge/Borough Market and most recently Finsbury Park Mosque on 19 June. Thirty seven people were killed and over 230 injured.
Even though I was in the physical vicinity of the Westminster and London Bridge attacks what truly brought the horrors home to me were two encounters:
The first, was when I was leaving my office in Parliament having been catching up with some work on a Sunday evening I walked through the deserted corridors and down into Westminster Hall. In the hall there were a small group of people quietly emerging from the Chapel of St Mary Undercroft. One of those was The Speaker’s Chaplain, Rose Hudson-Wilkin who had officiated in the marriage ceremony of my wife and I in the same chapel.
We spoke as friends and I enquired about the event that had just taken place. She responded sombrely that they had just been having a short service to ‘lie in rest’ the body of P C Keith Palmer ahead of his funeral the day before. PC Palmer had been murdered in the Westminster attack seeking to protect others. Beside her was a small girl jumping up and down the stone steps. I was told this was his daughter. She was five, about the age of my own grandson. I was overcome with emotion as thought that this little girl was going to grow up without her father because he had sacrificed his life to protect us.
The second encounter was a news interview by Victoria Derbyshire with the family of Saffie Roussos an 8 year old victim of the attack at Manchester Arena on 22 May. I wept though the entire interview any parent or grandparent would do the same. The thought that any human being could think that there way of achieving personal glory in eternity was to stand next to a group of children holding popcorn coming out of a pop concert and detonating a bomb with nails and bolts in it revealed a darkness in the human condition that made me want to abandon all hope.
Up until the point of that interview on 4 July my wife and I had planned to undertake a walk for charity in Africa between Nigeria and Sierra Leone. After watching that interview I felt that our help was needed at home. The combination of the terror attacks, the aggressive nature of the General Election campaign, the divisions and fears felt over Brexit, the Grenfell Tower fire and even today the horrific random acid attacks in London made me genuinely worry for my country. We desperately need to rediscover that essence of community and solidarity which Jo Cox so epitomised that whatever our differences, “that which unites us is greater than that which divides us”.
In the face of such overwhelming evil and suffering it is easy to fall into the despair that we are powerless whereas we are in fact power-full. For every one person who believes that their glory comes through the slaughter and maiming of life there are millions who would willingly put their lives at risk to save and help others. We see them in the actions of the emergency services. We see them in the community togetherness and numerous acts of kindness to strangers caught up in these horrors. We see this in the devotion of family and friends to support those whose lives have been effected by evil.
Xuelin and I want to stand with them and salute them and to in some small way through this walk help them to recognise that the ‘light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot extinguish it’ and that our response to those whose vein-glorious efforts would seek only to divide and destroy should be to unite and to build.
You can follow my walk and support Unicef www.walkforpeace.eu or follow on Twitter @bateslord