Photo by Brian Moody
On 7th July 2005, 52 people died and many were severely injured and maimed, by suicide bombers attacking London’s transport system. On a Piccadilly line underground train between Kings Cross and Russell Square stations, Australian-born Gill Hicks miraculously survived but lost both her legs due to the explosion. Gill’s memoir, One Unknown, was published in 2008.
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As I lay waiting, trapped in what resembled a train carriage – but was now a blackened, smoke filled indescribable ‘room’ of destruction and devastation – I was able to think. This period of time, some 40 minutes, was to prove to be the most insightful and blessed gift that I am yet to receive, apart from the ultimate gift of a second chance at life.
Incredibly, I believe I was offered the choice of Life. As the blood poured from my body (despite the scarf I had tied on each leg as a tourniquet to stem the flow), I felt incredibly weak, fighting to hold on, to survive. There were two voices holding a very powerful, conflicting conversation in my head – one voice willing me to hold on, telling me that there was so much to achieve, how my life could make a positive difference. The other ‘voice’, was calling me softly, telling me it was alright to let go, to drift away into a peaceful deep and permanent sleep. Both sides were stating their case – asking me to choose between life and death.
I wanted to live. I wanted to survive and so I chose Life. Once I made this decision the conversation ended. I wasn’t going to die in the carriage, not down there in that tunnel and not on that day.
Within an hour, help arrived by way of the emergency services. Each person who ‘saved’ me that day did so without knowing who I was. To them it didn’t matter if I was rich or poor, black or white, female or male, Muslim or Jew, religious or not. What mattered to the police, the ambulance, the paramedics, the surgeons, the nurses and all who never gave up the effort to save my life was that I was a precious human being. I arrived at the hospital as ‘One Unknown’ – an estimated female.
When I awoke I was euphoric to be alive and to have survived. I felt like a very blessed person – filled with emotions of love and compassion and joy. I promised myself that if I survived the bomb blast, I would honour the gift of life by doing all I could to give back, to make a greater contribution to the world and to live it to the fullest.
And honouring Life is to live without hatred, to not seek revenge or want violent retribution; to ensure that the cycle of conflict ends with me. I don’t see these actions or feelings as forgiveness, as I question if the suicide bomber would want my forgiveness, and he is dead, so we shall never know. All I can do is follow the example so brilliantly shown to me by all those who saved my life – that humanity, empathy, compassion are the attributes that I want to take into my second chance, my life number 2. My commitment is to be on the journey of understanding, to understand why a 19-year-old man from the north of England would take his own life and want to take mine.
I knew instinctively that the vow I made in the carriage to make a difference was exactly what I needed to do, so I left my career within architecture and design and created a not-for-profit business, called Making a Difference for Peace or M.A.D. My focus was to do all I could to deter anyone from falling under the influence of destructive extremist ideas and, worse, becoming human weapons.
Through my experience and the sharing of my story, my work has helped create an alternative narrative, that we are all interconnected and interdependent, each and every ‘One Unknown’; it is not ‘us’ and ‘them’.
I am the legacy of all those who never gave up trying to save my life, and in January 2013 I went on to create my own legacy – I gave birth to a beautiful daughter, Amelie. There hasn’t been a single day since that fateful morning on 7 July 2005 when I have not been grateful to have my life, and there has not been a single moment since having my daughter that I have not been in awe of the wonder of life, that my life has gone on to create a new life. Amelie has it all ahead of her, to make her choices and decisions. All that I hope to instil is that she makes a positive contribution and a great difference in anything she does.
Tomorrow is for Amelie and all our children, but Today is for us all to build the strong foundations on which Tomorrow will stand. Building a sustainable peace is, I believe, our collective responsibility. I would like to raise my child in a world whose people were empathetic and actively engaged in peace as part of their everyday. I would like to live and share in a world where the killing and maiming of innocent people is not a course of action, is no longer a reality. I would like to live in a world whose people were M.A.D.