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July 07, 2006

Memorial

This morning on NPR I learned that, one year ago today, four British-born terrorists set off bombs on a bus and on Underground trains in London, killing fifty-six people, including themselves.

I knew that the bombings happened -- in fact, I knew exactly where and when they happened -- because I was there, right in the middle of it all, but I didn't have any information beyond that. I was so scared by what I experienced that I assiduously avoided all news of the event that came out afterwards and, until this morning, had no more information about it than I had when I went to bed on July 7, 2005. I didn't even know until this morning that the bombings were suicide attacks.

Today I can't believe that I was so checked out one year ago, so preoccupied with getting my work done, that I was barely aware of the fact that I was witnessing a terrorist attack from its epicenter. I was almost to preoccupied to be scared. I was in London on a research trip, staying at Goodenough College, which is between King's Cross and Russell Square stations, both of which were damaged when a bomb exploded on a train that was between the two. I left my room that morning just about the time that the bomb went off, and when I passed by the Russell Square station on my way to the Wellcome Library for the History and Understanding of Medicine, people were gathered outside the station. I wondered what was going on and felt glad that I didn't have to take the Tube that day, and proceeded through Tavistock Square about ten minutes before the bus exploded there. When I got to Euston Road, commuters and travelers with suitcases were pouring out of Euston Station, and I heard sirens everywhere. I remember thinking that London was in chaos that morning, but it never occurred to me to ask someone what was going on. I just had to get to that library.

I didn't know about the bombings until about noon, when one of the archivists made an announcement to the researchers in the reading room, telling us what had happened and asking us not to leave the building until they had determined it was safe to do so. At three that afternoon, the library closed until further notice. The streets of London were surreal. Most of them had been closed to traffic and all public transport was down, so everyone was just walking home. It was hard to get back to Goodenough because so many of the streets in that area had been barricaded.

That night I watched as much news as I could stomach, but the next morning I put it all out of my mind and got back to work. The Wellcome Library was still closed, so I went to the British Library instead. I wasn't going to let terrorism prevent me from doing my research! The next week I braved the Tube to go to the Public Record Office. The Russell Square station was still closed, so I had to walk about a half hour to Tottenham Court Road each morning and back each evening. One week after the bombings, there was a national moment of silence. I remember thinking it was odd to have a moment of silence in the archives, where everyone is silent anyway. Today I'm embarrassed by the fact that I was so wrapped up in myself and in my work that I barely noticed that people were dying all around me, but perhaps it is what I needed to do in order to cope with the fear and terror.

Posted by eklanche at July 7, 2006 10:45 AM

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