In 2005, I heard the loudest noise of my life. A deadly bomb exploded right next to me and burst both my eardrums. Even before I could blink, I was blasted out of my body. When I surfaced, I found myself lying on the floor, trapped deep underground amongst train wreckage and body parts. It was a scene straight out of a disaster movie. But it was also a spiritual wake-up call that was to change my life.
When I look back, survival seems like a miracle. I live on with an attitude of gratitude and have more hope than before. The Buddhists say life is pain and suffering, so, if we aren’t suffering every day, we must be doing something right. But pain is not defeat. Rather, it’s the sign that we’ve lived life, took the blows and are still standing strong.
Even though I lost my leg in the explosion, surviving the ordeal physically, as tough as it was, felt like a jog in the park, compared to surviving mentally and emotionally since then. However, such suffering has sprung forth a fountain of compassion in my heart; I know exactly how it feels to have pain and adversity as unwanted companions.
I know what it is to be depressed and lose all hope, sinking so low that you feel it is the end of the road. But trust me, sometimes the road that you think is leading to a dead end, is in fact leading you towards a new and brighter future.
We are witnessing unprecedented times with economic losses, millions have become jobless, thousands have paid the ultimate price of losing their lives. The thought of being locked in going forwards without being able to see, touch and embrace our family and friends is driving most of us nuts.
I survived a terrorist explosion and am left wondering what is the best way to ensure we survive this global pandemic explosion? Especially for the lesser privileged and the vulnerable sections of society?
For me, my beautiful mother was the reason I got through my darkest hours. She was my first thought when I was trapped underground, “I can’t die here, Mum needs me.”
I love my Mother dearly, we had a wonderful bond. After doing as much as she could to bring up my two brothers and I single handed, this strong woman was confined to a nursing home after suffering two strokes. My heart was broken.
I’ll always remember an old Jamaican saying she used.
“Once a man, twice a child”
There she was now, needing help like a child again.
Find your reason. It will be worth the effort and you’ll be very pleased with yourself.
Next I found a way to forgive, I made headlines in the British Media for saying that I forgave the bombers and it was true. I tried to see the other perspective, I tried to empathise with them. In some way to understand that it wasn’t personal, they didn’t pick me out to blow me up, it was my fate, my destiny and somehow there was a reason for it.
After that, I realised how grateful I was for life, even though my Mother died, sadly before I could see her again. I’m grateful I’ve been given a second chance. I’m grateful I still have my sight and have regained some hearing in my left ear. The scars have healed and I lost half a leg but I gained four legs, a running leg, swimming leg, dancing leg and walking leg!
A sense of humour helps.
I found out not to take myself too seriously. So when I took my Mother’s ashes to Jamaica to bury them along with my cremated foot, I came across two small boys no more than 7 or 8 years old.
“What happened to your foot?” they frowned looking worried.
“I lost it.”
“No man, you can’t lose your foot,” they pull faces at me as if I’m stupid, the smaller one cocks his head to one side putting his hand on his hip, suddenly I see the funny side so I play along.
“I did lose it.”
“The whole foot?” the taller one bends down curiously to have a closer look.
“Yeah man, the whole foot.”
“Wow” the smaller one exclaims, as the other scratches his head pausing to think before he continues the serious inquisition.
“How you manage to walk then?”
“It’s a bionic foot.”
They look unconvinced and actually reach down to touch it.
“But you still have your foot?” They point at my shoe with a broad smile and make a face at each other as if they’ve caught me out. I keep a straight face but by now I’m really dying to laugh.
“No, it’s gone, it got blown off!”
“How you mean it get blow off?” the taller one looks at me intently raising his eyebrow, as the other continues to inspect my foot.
“A bomb blew it off, on the train.”
They gasp in horror, looking at each other then back at me with wide eyes.
”Bomb? Bumbaclot!” he exclaims in Jamaican and puts his hands over his mouth.
“Ih-eeah!” the little one exclaims, as they both stand quietly, hands over their mouths. The taller one whispers, extending his words “and – your – still – living?”
“Yeah man, I’m still here.” No longer able to hold it in, I have to walk away laughing so hard my face hurts.
Thank God, I can laugh at myself and I’ve found a spiritual mentor to support me, help me to tell my story and heal emotionally and mentally. I’ve started to see who my real friends are, those who are there for me with actions not just words. Those people that I didn’t expect to help me did, and those that I expected to help me didn’t.
I’ve also learned to love myself, like I’m someone I care about. Looking after myself as well as I did for my Mother. I write myself love notes in the mornings to put under my pillow, so when I go to bed at night I’ll have an uplifting message to sleep on. This is great for those alone in the lockdown too.
I set aside time for myself; to pamper myself and enjoy some timeout, doing nothing, with no guilt. I try not to worry about the small stuff, it’s all small stuff, really!
Over the years, I’ve learned gentle discipline, make a list of things to do but forgive myself if I can’t manage today’s goals. Add things I want to do to my list in between the chores.
I’ve learned to challenge myself. Cleaning my car was my first challenge as I adapted to my new way of life with my prosthetic leg. I fell a few times, but got up stronger!
An elderly couple would park their car near mine. There was always a bit of banter between us,
“You’ve missed a bit,” he would say, “When are you going to wash my car?”
“One day, mate. One day,” I’d reply laughing at his jokes.
Then one day after washing my car I found enough energy to wash theirs as well. I couldn’t contain my smile when they returned to their car and saw the look of delight on his face. I took the attention off myself and put it on to them, knowing I can still help others felt amazing. I moved on to working out in the gym and have shared videos on Instagram and TikTok of the things that help me.
I now spend time with people who lift me up, rather than compete with me; positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity.
I look beyond the colour of someone’s skin, because I know our spiritual teachers appear in all different colours and sizes. I look towards great Asian civilisations like India and draw strength from its incredible spiritual heritage. The Western world teaches us to depend more on logic and intellect but when I was face to face with death, my intuition and spirituality saved my life and sanity. Indian culture has been a great source of inspiration with spiritual masters such as Mahatma Gandhi and Dalai Lama, as well as practises such as Yoga and Meditation.
Music is the food of my life and my music kept me focused and distracted when I wasn’t ready to go out. I hope to share a song I wrote very soon on my social media.
The most important lesson I’ve learned in all this is to make a start and take one step at a time. When I climb up a flight of stairs with my prosthetic leg, I don’t look at the top, I take one step at a time, until I can actually run all the way up!
Finally, I’d like to say that the coronavirus has disrupted our lives, but It hasn’t extinguished the flames of hope and happiness that burns bright in our hearts. I survived a life-changing explosion years ago and I am sure we will survive this momentary explosion of discord in our lives as well.
I’m told in India they say, Chinta mat karo, sab theek ho jayega. Don’t worry, we will survive this. And in Jamaica they say, just cool man, Guidance and Protection.
Garri Holness is the author of ‘Surviving 7/7 London Bombings and Beyond’.
Views expressed are his own