Above: Poet Tony Walsh reads This Is The Place at the vigil in Manchester. Credit: BBC News.
The terrorist attack that struck Manchester on Monday was a truly abhorrent act. The bombing, which occurred at Manchester Arena, targeted a crowd exiting a pop concert, the majority of whom were teenagers and young children. As tragic details continue to emerge, our thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families, and the city of Manchester.
In the hours that followed the explosion, numerous examples of courage and kindness flooded social media. There was the woman who ushered 50 panicked teens into the safety of a nearby hotel; the taxi drivers who offered free lifts; the locals who let strangers into their homes; not to mention the countless Mancunians who brewed teas, gave blood, and searched for the missing. While the cowards behind the attack clearly attempted to divide the city, Manchester rolled into Tuesday more united than ever.
That evening, thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds and faiths gathered in Albert Square to remember the lives lost. Then yesterday, a video of Sadiq Patel, a Muslim, joining hands in prayer with Renee Black, a Jewish woman, at the vigil appeared on Twitter. It’s an image that may become the enduring symbol of the event, and it’s all the more touching when you consider how many moments like this weren’t captured on camera.
A beautiful moment in Manchester. Renee Black, 93, and Sadiq Patel, praying together in Albert Square. She is Jewish, he is Muslim. pic.twitter.com/domRfClHTa
— Daniel Hewitt (@DanielHewittITV) May 24, 2017
Seeing these acts of kindness is a great comfort following a tragic event. Not only do they convey a powerful feeling of togetherness, they also make for a refreshing change. In the current era, a positive story rarely makes the news or our social media feeds. This is not because people aren’t kind, but because kindness is happening all the time.
Unlike the rare horror that creates headlines, good deeds never do because they are all around us. They may be small, they may be fleeting, but they are the reason our everyday lives are not defined by hate and division.
In the same vigil in Albert Square on Tuesday, the poet Tony Walsh (AKA Longfella) read his ode to Manchester, This Is The Place, to the crowd. The poem perfectly reflects the current mood, depicting a city united; where people of all backgrounds help each other, where industry booms, creativity flourishes, and hardship is overcome through togetherness and unity.
And where, naturally, kindness is offered in cups of tea:
That Mancunian way to survive and to thrive and to work and to build, to connect, and create and Greater Manchester’s greatness is keeping it great.
And so this is the place now with kids of our own. Some are born here, some drawn here, but they all call it home.
And they’ve covered the cobbles, but they’ll never defeat, all the dreamers and schemers who still teem through these streets.
Because this is a place that has been through some hard times: oppressions, recessions, depressions, and dark times.
But we keep fighting back with Greater Manchester spirit. Northern grit, Northern wit, and Greater Manchester’s lyrics.
Walsh’s reading felt like a rallying cry, the perfect antidote for a city in mourning. As a response to the tragedy and a tribute to the courage of Manchester, it was flawless. You’d be forgiven for thinking it was written just for the occasion.
But This Is The Place was, in fact, written in 2013. All the stories of kindness, unity and resilience that we’ve read over the past few days are mirrored in the lines of Walsh’s four-year-old poem. Its words don’t commemorate a moment, but the history and culture of an entire city.
On Monday night, ordinary people reacted to exceptional circumstances in extraordinary ways – no one can deny that – but far from being an aberration, it is what you’d expect from the people of Manchester, or from anyone, anywhere. It’s why the aftermath to these shocking attacks always reminds us of people’s inherent good, their kindness and their willingness to help others.
And it’s why these hateful acts, despite their intentions, will never divide us.