Where Were You? Manchester Arena Bombing, a Year On

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On the one year anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing at the Ariana Grande concert journalist and DJ, Dave Piper, shares his thoughts and reflections after last night’s memorial concert in the city.

You hear it all the time, don’t you? “Where were you, when ‘x’ happened?” By ‘x’, they don’t mean Charles Xavier’s motley crew. Or some maths thing we forgot about the minute we’d left high school. But there are so many political events, disasters, and atrocities that are supposed to stick with us for life. From Gareth Southgate missing that penalty at Euro 96, to Andy Murray winning his first Wimbledon. From the Berlin Wall, to the freeing of Nelson Mandela. From the Boxing Day Tsunami to 9/11. We all know where we were, and what we were doing. Right?

If you’re like me, plain wrong.

But there are a few major events that have stuck with me.

When 9/11 happened, I was in History class at 6th form – or it might have been Law. Mrs Jones took us for both, back-to-back.

When the 7/7 bombs went off in London, I was working at an outdoor centre in the Highlands – I went on my break, and saw the news on the telly. My mum was travelling across London to catch a flight. Fortunately, she was OK, but I didn’t know at the time.

When the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena was bombed, on Monday 22nd of May 2017, I was in bed asleep. Just a few miles away, in South Manchester.

When the alarm went at 6am, I had a text from my mum (she works nights). “What’s happening in Manchester? Are you OK?” I texted back, then went to find out what on earth was going on.

I guess it shows my instincts are pre-2000; I turned to local radio, not Twitter or Facebook, to get the latest. And as the death toll mounted, and the impact on the families grew, it seemed a very dark day. Made darker by knowing I’d got to go into work and report on it. My morning would be spent phoning still-shocked and traumatised community leaders, to get “their story”.

We’re now a year on from that dark day – and the city’s brighter. Not just from the unusual summer’s weather we’ve been having, but from the knowledge we can suffer the unimaginable. And not give in. To fear, or to hate. The bombing of young children and teens at that pop concert cost 22 lives. Hundreds were injured, many life-alteringly. Families at the anniversary memorial were still visibly grieving. And understandably so. But through it all, we’ve not given in. Terror has not won. The name of the bomber will someday be forgotten – but the determination to stand firm in the face of evil, and the support for the survivors and their families, must last.

Music has been a key thread of showing that support. Appropriate enough, for a city that can boast Elbow, The Charlatans, The Stone Roses, The Smiths and Oasis. And it was “Don’t look back in anger” that the crowds sang, at the minute’s silence, three days on from the bombing.

The city didn’t look back in anger – but forward in hope. Bands like Twelve24 and LZ7, who’ve played the Arena many times, still go into local schools, sharing the difference God can make, even in the darkest times. Organisations like Redeeming Our Communities have redoubled their efforts to build community, encouraging us to pray for our city and our nation. And chaplains from the Railway Mission are still working, every day, alongside rail staff and British Transport Police who responded within minutes of the blast.

So where were you, when the Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena was bombed? And where are you now?

It seems to me, there are two choices in life. Give in to the fear and hate we see so often. Or refuse it. Don’t fear. Don’t hate. Don’t look back in anger.

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