When I was 12 or 13 I went to a concert for the first time without my parents. Alicia Keys was coming to tour in England and I just loved her, so me and my friend decided – in a way only teenage girls can! – that we just had to go. She wasn’t touring in our hometown, so we would have to drive a little way, but we were sure it was worth the short journey. We managed to convince my parents to take us there, and then leave us to enjoy the concert without them. They would go to eat a meal nearby and be waiting for us outside the doors at the end.
It was a great concert. We laughed, we danced, we sang till our throats were sore. We felt grown up and cool. It was a night to be both wonderfully young and innocent, all while feeling we were one step closer to being adults. My parents kept their promise and were waiting for us outside the doors when it was all over, and we drove home still giddy with the excitement of it all, ready to retell the adventure in painstaking detail to all our friends at school the next day.
Last night, thousands of other young girls were just like me and my friend had been: heading off to see a star they love perform. They were looking forward to dancing and singing and laughing and being young and happy. Their parents promised to meet them outside when it was all over. Same arena, same hope for a fun night, but now we know, a very different ending.
The horrible truth of today is that some of those girls – and boys – had a very different ending to their night. Some of those girls won’t get to tell their friends about it tomorrow. They won’t have that happy memory of a night of dancing and laughing and being happy with their friends. They didn’t get that happy reunion of parent and child at the doors on their way out.
It wasn’t that long ago that I was writing about horrible events in London, and how hard it is to see those things happen to your country when you are so far away. The events in Manchester last night seem, if it were possible, even worse somehow. Maybe it is because Manchester is closer to home for me. Or maybe it is because it was so clearly aimed at children and young people. My heart just breaks for them all.
There’s not a lot to say when these events happen, when people die senselessly and at the hands of an individual who is… well, I’ll let you insert your own adjective there. All I know is this: it’s not okay. It’s not okay for someone to decide who lives or dies. It’s not okay to cause fear and pain and death and loss like that. It’s not okay to take parents from their kids. It’s not okay to take kids from their parents. It’s not okay to turn what should have been a happy memory into a nightmare. It’s not okay to rip kids’ innocence away and replace it with fear. It’s not okay.
But Manchester will be okay. I know this because Manchester has what even London doesn’t have: Northern spirit. If you’re wondering what Northern spirit is, let this Northern lass tell you. It’s what made strangers become family last night. It’s what made parents of a few kids be parents to many. It’s what made hotels take in lost children. It’s what made taxi drivers turn off their meters and just take people where they needed to be. It’s what makes Manchester, and what makes Manchester great. Northern spirit is guts and stubbornness and hopefulness and a defiance to believe better and stick together. It’s the strength to not be beaten by cruel and bad people, because they are always good people around you. They make us strong in the North, and because of that, Manchester will be okay.
Tonight I will pray for the victims of the attacks in Manchester, and I will give thanks too, for those who came together and said in the face of fear, ‘You won’t defeat us; we’re strong, we’re proud, we’re Northerners.’