Life is short

In London, where I live, we’ve had so much bad news over the last few weeks. 

Already the Manchester suicide bombing of the Ariana Grande concert shocked us all. How anyone, least of all someone who was the child of a refugee, could do something like this to innocent children is beyond our understanding. 

And then suddenly it was close to home. Borough market and London Bridge – places we know and love and went out to in the evenings. It’s the last thing you’d expect in those hazy summer evenings spent at after work drinks, that people would go on a rampage. Just too close to home. And not long after the Westminster bridge attack. 

And then Grenfell tower. A large tower block of residential apartments, many or all of them social housing, up in flames. Hundreds presumed dead. A “stay put policy” the reasoning behind why many stayed in their homes whilst the building burned around them. But also the impossibility of escape when so far up. 

I live in a block of flats. Not so high up but we don’t have a lift (elevator) and we are right at the top. It makes me think. I think our building has better fire proofing than Grenfell. We have fire doors and dry risers. And it’s an old building, lots of brick and stone. But still. 

It’s the human stories that get me. With any of these, it’s the little things. I’m not saying I didn’t have the capacity to feel before. But since becoming a mother there is something primal I feel whenever I hear about children. 

At Grenfell, someone threw a baby out of the window from the 9th or 10th floor. The building was burning. Imagine what it must take, the terror in your heart, to throw your child out of a window in the chance they might be saved. Knowing that you probably won’t be. If either of our lives end, I want B to be with me and yet… a parent has chosen to be separated from their child at the point of likely death in the hopes that their child will live. I just can’t imagine the pain. (The papers are reporting the child survived. But nobody knows what happened to the parent.)

Another story: a 12 year old girl calls her mother in a state of fear and terror. She’s trapped on the 20th floor. Her mother is a cleaner working night shift. She rushes back to the tower and people hold her back. It’s too dangerous to enter. But her little girl, her baby is trapped up there. The smoke is too thick. She doesn’t get out. 

Grenfell is so terrible because it was not an act of terror – which is terrible in itself – but an act of negligence. Someone, somewhere approved the cladding that apparently created a chimney of inflammable material. Instead of the hour or so expected that residents would be safe in their flats, the entire building went up in a matter of minutes. The fire started on the fourth floor which meant those in the upper floors had little chance of survival. 

And the residents of Grenfell were from the poorer ends of society. Immigrants, Muslims, social housing, a diverse set of people living in a tower block just a stone’s throw from some of the richest. Kensington is one of the richest parts of London but side by side with some of the poorest. The great paradox of London – wealth and poverty side by side. 

The inflammable cladding was probably an aesthetic decision to try and protect the rich neighbours from the “eyesore” of poorer people on their doorstep. Part of an apparent £6m refurb project that didn’t fit the building with sprinklers or fire protection or alarms. Those people were often living with multiple occupants in flats, with larger families, which is why the death toll is predicted to be so high. Many of the residents were Muslim, and this happened during the holy month of Ramadan, which is why many were still awake at 1am when the fire broke out, otherwise the death toll might have been higher. 

In London everyone pulls together. People galvanised within hours to offer shelter, and bring food and drink and clothing and toiletries to the Grenfell residents who survived. Their immediate material needs can be met. But their emotional needs cannot. The horror of anyone who escaped dwarfs the horror of those who had to watch, helpless, as a tower block full of innocent people burned. And yet all any one of us can feel is horror. The stories of people trapped in their own homes, where they should feel safe. 

Today is the fifth anniversary of my friend’s husband’s death from cancer. He fought bravely through limb amputation – he was amazing, doing sports without a care in the world. But five years ago he passed away in his sleep. My friend now has a new husband and baby and she talks about the pain of knowing that her husband wanted her to be happy with someone new – and she is – versus wishing he was still here. It’s a painful paradox. 

My other friend who has cancer has finished chemo and first surgery and she’s recovering before her reconstruction surgery in a couple of months. I’m glad they caught the cancer but I hate what she is going through. It’s so taxing on her body. And it’s the second time she’s had cancer. I don’t know how she gets through it. Somehow she does. I try and let her know I’m thinking about her every day. But really I wish I could just take it all away and there was no such thing as cancer. 

It feels as though there has been such horror lately. It hurts to think about it. On a personal level I know I live in immense privilege, the fact that I have a roof over my head and a longed for baby and a great partner and dog, and I’m healthy. I am lucky to be here. And in any of those disasters we think: It could have been us. 

We have to be thankful for what we have. And I truly am, but in the past weeks I have been even more. With these horrible things happening all we can do is hold our loved ones a little tighter and enjoy every single moment. I thank my lucky stars every single day for what I have. Life is short and you never know what’s going to happen. Be happy. 

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22 comments

  1. EmilyMaine

    My heart just breaks for the UK at the moment. So many tragedies so close together ☹️ that whole story about the apartment building is just awful. When I saw the photo it just shook me to the core so I can only imagine how it must feel when you live there.

    Like

    • Nara

      It’s awful. I feel like it’s hit me even harder because it was something so mundane. We are all used to living in flats here in London and yet they’re thinking hundreds of people died because of negligence. And knowing you’re going to die… people were on social media talking about it. It’s terrible. Residents had been told to stay out and they would be rescued by the fire services. But many of them wouldn’t. Such tragedy.

      Like

    • Nara

      Yes I can’t hear about bad things happening to kids without welling up. It’s so tragic. I can’t imagine how desperate you must be to throw your baby from a tenth floor window. Not knowing if they’d survive.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MrsKirstyHoll

        I just cant imagine it. There tales of a girl phoning her mum who was inside while the mum was coming back from night shift. Daughter still missing 😦

        Like

  2. MrsD

    Thank you for posting- I was a little worried wondering if you and your family were ok! Those are heartbreaking stories- ones the US media hasn’t really covered, but probably because we’re all distracted by the dangerous lunatic in the White House. We live in a really messed up world right now 😦

    Like

    • Nara

      Thanks! I’m not in that part of London thankfully. I’m surprised the US didn’t cover the terrorist attacks. But Grenfell is a domestic fire so I suppose they wouldn’t have covered it. The loss of life is huge which is why it’s so terrible. They think it may well be into triple figures.

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      • MrsD

        They’ve covered the attacks and the fire but not in depth and definitely not the human side of it (though they did somewhat with the Ariana Grande one). More just passing stories sandwiched between more coverage of the epic disaster that is the Trump presidency 😦 Oh and coverage of him insulting the mayor of London following the attacks….

        Like

  3. Dani

    It is just that. When it happens on your doorstep you feel it deep in your bones to be thankful for EVERYTHING!!!!

    Our nanny said to us before we left for the UK stay safe because last time I was in UK was Westminster and she was worried about us because I hadn’t replied to her message for a few days. I told her don’t worry, these things are rare. And then London Bridge happened coincidentally when we were back in UK again. I guess it’s not rare, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon.

    The fire is absolutely heartbreaking. I own a flat at the top of a block of flats, and one time the fire alarm went off I just turned the TV up because it was the 5th time that week it had gone off. About ten minutes later there was a bang on the door from a fireman telling me to get out because there was a fire in my neighbours flat. I was oblivious! We bought a rope ladder after that.

    Like

    • Nara

      Yes, you must know more than most after you got caught up in Brussels. Maybe you have to stay out of the UK?!

      I can’t believe the fire. When I first heard it I wasn’t even worried because I assumed everyone had been evacuated. But the tragedy is they were told to stay put. It’s the policy in flats now to say that you should stay and wait to be rescued. But no way! If it ever happened to us I’d be out of there! I think it’s worse because it was a tower so I assume at some point they couldn’t get past the floor where the fire was on. So awful to know that you will die.

      There was actually a fire in our last block of flats but it didn’t spread. Probably because we were in a converted factory with lots of fire doors and I guess not very flammable walls (lots of brick and concrete). I feel lucky.

      Like

  4. Karasone

    Ughh, my heart is breaking regarding that fire. I work on issues related to the safety of low-income housing so this hits even closer to home. Sending you and the UK love today.

    Like

    • Nara

      The more information comes out about it, the more I wonder how it hasn’t happened before. (It has… but not on that scale.) It’s just unbelievable.

      Like

  5. babydreamsandlove

    It’s all just so awful! My heart breaks – soooo bad for what they’re going through, been through – have yet to go through. It’s so sad, so unfair 😦 I’ve always thought I’d love to move back to London – That’s where my entire family were born and bred, it always seemed like such a nice upbringing they had and that I could give my family. Stuff happens everywhere, but all of this at once is unimaginable. Doesn’t even seem real that it’s all happened!

    Like

    • Nara

      It’s so sad. London is an amazing city! It just seems like we have had a lot of tragedy lately. Though of course Manchester was on a huge scale. You’re right… It doesn’t seem real. I feel so bad for the Grenfell victims as the one place you should feel safe is your home.

      Like

  6. wonkygenes

    Even though l live in Italy I still see London as my home. I’ve been glued to the news, just feeling so incredibly sad. And I saw my husband crying when reading one on the news articles so I know it’s not just pregnancy hormones. I also feel angry, angry at the inequality and negligence. It’s just so awful.

    Like

  7. circumstance227

    I confess, I was happy to see this post. You are one of the few people I “know” who lives in London, so I have been thinking a lot about you. I know exactly what you mean about how things hit you harder once you have a child of your own. These events encapsulate almost everything that seems to be going wrong in the world. But some things are still alright – like the Londoners’ response to these events. And the fact that I know you are okay.

    Like

  8. 30yr old nothing

    Life is too short. That building fire is absolutely horrific. And infuriating. It’s a tragic lesson but I hope that these peoples deaths aren’t in vane and some positive change comes from it as far as building safety is concerned. Stay safe my friend.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Bela85 (flatwhitetogo85)

    It’s just unbearable. It really does feel like it’s been one thing after another. All of it is horrific, but the thought of those poor people at Grenfell…well, it just turns my stomach and it should never in a million years have been allowed to happen. As for the people caught up in the numerous terrorist attacks, particularly those poor children enjoying themselves at a concert, it’s all just beyond evil.

    Liked by 1 person

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