England swings like a pendulum do,
Bobbies on bicycles two-by-two
Westminster Abbey, the tower of Big Ben
The rosy red cheeks of the little children.
-Roger Miller, England Swings
My childhood was steeped in London pop culture.
As a young musician learning to play trumpet and the bass guitar, I was captivated by the British Invasion. The Beatles put images in my head about Strawberry Fields and Penny Lane. Later on, the quirky Warren Zevon sang about the Werewolves of London.
For me, The Big Smoke came to represent the rest of the world—a large, nice place that could only be admired from afar.
I finally visited London after receiving an invitation to speak there to keynote a leadership conference.
My travel mate and I visited the best of the city. We enjoyed the lovely restaurant district on Charlotte Street, bought clothes at Selfridges, and walked endlessly through the bustling neighborhoods.
We saw the famous Ferris wheel known world-over as “The London Eye.” We took a boat cruise on the Thames River or as the Brits call it—“the River Thames.” Our guide took us on a tour that included Trafalgar Square, the Parliament, and Big Ben.
And we were on Westminster Bridge on Wednesday, March 22, the day of that horrific terror attack by the motorist who took to the sidewalk.
London’s variety makes it special
People travel to London from all over the globe. They come for sightseeing, to celebrate anniversaries, and even to learn.
I was especially impressed by the throngs of foreign students on the Westminster Bridge that fateful day. I like meeting people who are different.
You may know that the country of England is part of the United Kingdom. The UK is made up of England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland—but just Northern Ireland. It turns out that many feel that the people who live in Southern Ireland are different.
Of course, everyone is “different.”
London and other cities in England endured decades of bombings at the hands of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). The bombs were often placed in garbage containers and mailboxes in busy urban areas. The IRA is reported to have killed 1,800 people including civilians and children.
My fellow London tourists and I took photos for each other. It was not unusual to have someone I didn’t know ask me to snap a picture with her iPhone. I handed my camera to strangers so they could photograph me in front of tourist sites. This kind of “souvenir snapping” is a great way to meet people.
We engaged with people from all over the world and heard languages including French, Italian, Japanese, and Arabic. Every language was different and fun in its own way.
Language calls attention to our differences. So do traditions, borders, and politics.
Some people dwell on those differences more than others. Nefarious people want to punish others for being different.
The politics of being different
We enjoyed our stroll on the Westminster Bridge that March 22.
Our group stopped to take photos on the sidewalk of westbound Bridge Street—the same sidewalk that a cowardly terrorist entered with his automobile only two hours later.
He was an aging troublemaker–a man dumb enough to bring a knife to a gun fight–wreaked incredible havoc, killing five people and injuring about 40 others in just 82 seconds.
Moral of the story
Investigators spent a lot of time and energy trying to find a “motive” for the murder spree. But, madness has no motive.
When there is a terrorist incident, an organization usually steps forward to claim “responsibility.” Yet, there is nothing responsible about killing innocent people and children.
Perhaps there are other lessons to learn:
- For example, if we can’t make things less complicated, we should learn to appreciate our differences.
- We must expect the unexpected. After all, things that aren’t supposed to happen occur every day.
- Finally, we should remember that the good guys always win.
Stay different and keep a stiff upper lip, London.
And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make.
-The Beatles, The End