There’s a busy square in London where I used to eat my hummus and cucumber sandwiches. It’s called Russell Square and is bizarrely idyllic in contrast to what would eventually take place a block away in Tavistock Square on July 7, 2005. An outdoor caf sits near the entrance, a stone’s throw away from a fountain in which children play. The hum of traffic fades to a lull and daily worries peel away.

I used to come here between classes during the semester I studied abroad. When I arrived in January, it didn’t take much time for me to fall in love with the city – with Westminster lit up at night, indie rock’n roll clubs, world-class museums, Indian food on Brick Lane and the friends with whom I shared it all.

I even loved my daily Tube journeys, the awkward glances between attractive people, the varied range of absurd to clean-cut clothing and my own theories on who all these people were and where they were going and from where they had come.

On the day of the attacks, I was in the suburbs where I lived. My flatmate and I watched the news reports on the London attacks in shock, not only from the news itself, but also from the fact that this was happening as we watched it – that as we sat there in safety, people that we regularly saw in the daily crush were living out all of our worst nightmares.

This wasn’t the Middle East. This wasn’t Fallujah or Jerusalem. These were our streets, our Tubes, our buses. This was our London. The coming week was full of questions like this, as well as teary phone calls, pleas from our parents to come home and nerve-wracking rides on the now severely disabled Tube. I was overwhelmed with feelings of love and compassion for the innocent victims, as well as those of guilt and inadequacy because I felt completely incapable of helping them.

I couldn’t run around the hospitals hugging all those afflicted individuals, bringing them chicken noodle soup like the overbearing mother I’ll inevitably one day become.

Like a true American, I coped with my grief and unrest by consuming – managing to spend 75 in two days on food and music. I lay on my bed and listened to my CDs on repeat, wondering how long it would take for it to be safe to travel back into central London, for the cafes to buzz with chatter, for my London to become my London once again.

A week after the attacks, on my first trip on the Tube, with the rush hour crowd, back to my part-time job in central London, I continued to wonder.Over the week, I of course met up with various friends, and the conversations were all the same – Were you there? What can we do to prevent further attacks? Are we to blame? I thought of these things as I rode back into London, but was also surprised that my new found fear of the Tube quickly turned into one of empowerment.

I was overwhelmed with the conviction that my life would return to normal right along with everyone else’s.

During my lunch break, I wandered down to Russell Square to see how the atmosphere had changed.

The streets were uncharacteristically quiet, one lane being cordoned off with police tape and plastic sheeting to cover the site of the Tavistock explosion. Policemen in neon green vests stood out against the cement and brick buildings, lining the street down to Russell Square.

Despite these changes, the square was much the same as I had left it. People were out in their usual numbers, eating lunch and talking casually. The only reminder of the tragic events that had taken place uncomfortably near the park, both above and below ground, were those green vests, bomb sniffing dogs and a distinct vacuum of noise left by the relatively quiet streets.

As I sat on a park bench and ate my hummus and cucumber sandwich, I thought about the difficulties of coping with tragedy. We want to come to conclusions, take action, fix the problem, but it doesn’t happen like that.

In the days following the attack I was asked by many friends back home if everything in London was now “alright,” – what does “alright” even mean in a situation like this? I never knew how to respond. No, of course it wasn’t alright.

Our lives, our culture, our mental and physical well-being had been threatened, and that’s not something you can just get over in a week or two.

But what I can say is this – as I sat in Russell Square a week after the attacks, I knew that things would eventually get better. It may take a few weeks or maybe even a few months but over time it would again become the city I had grown to love.

There was a shady square in which I could eat my hummus and cucumber sandwiches. If I couldn’t appreciate that, well, there wasn’t much that I could appreciate.

Despite what was going on anywhere else in the world, this moment in Russell Square was reserved for me and my sandwich.

Kaminsky can be reached lkaminsky@campustimes.org.



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