Britain appreciates our pain

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Apr 19, 2013

An ill wind blew from JFK to Heathrow Airport on Monday, as we started hearing about the Boston Marathon atrocities, while still on the tarmac in London. The flight gave me and other American passengers too much time to speculate and relive the horrors of 9/11 that began with other Americans boarding flights from Boston.

Despite all that, it was calming to land in a place with many similarities to Boston. Virtually every Londoner that greeted me that first day and since has expressed condolences, observing that London had suffered terribly from terrorism as well and would host its own marathon on Sunday.

To these kind Londoners, I explained the symbolism of Patriots’ Day and how it commemorates Paul Revere’s warning that their ancestors “the British (were) coming” and the battles of Lexington and Concord the next day, April 19. With some I even recounted the Waco siege of the Branch Davidian compound by federal agents on April 19, 1993, and the revenge bombing on April 19, 1995, in Oklahoma City by domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh.

The London Marathon will be an incredibly tense and logistically complicated affair for runners from around the world, for the brave and resilient London citizenry and for their equally celebrated police force.

In addition to its security, Britain said goodbye on Wednesday to its prime minister, Margaret Thatcher.

My day job is with a law firm that just opened an office at Paternoster Square, outside the entrance to St. Paul’s Cathedral, where Thatcher’s funeral took place. We watched the queen and former and current prime ministers, Tony Blair and David Cameron, arrived in advance of the coffin bearing the remains of the Iron Lady. I hadn’t known what to expect of the crowd, given the controversy in Britain over Thatcher’s death that had been reported back in the “Colonies.”

Americans had seen the spontaneous and joyous rallies that broke out after Thatcher died April 8, and had uncomfortably heard the frequent playing of Judy Garland’s rendition of “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” that this week rose to No. 2 on the British pop charts. However, being here, it seems that much of the joy and protests came from people who were children or not yet born in 1990 when Thatcher completed her 11 years as prime minister, the longest anyone had led the government of the United Kingdom in the 20th century.

The revelers believed that Thatcher was, in fact, the one-dimensional caricature the British left has made her out to be in recent years. Thatcher, who had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, could not reply as she otherwise would have — with characteristic eloquence and force.

The 2,000 mourners that crowded St. Paul’s, who along with British politicians and nobility included Henry Kissinger, Dick Cheney and current and former rulers from more than 100 countries, also were celebrating. This was clear from the demeanor we witnessed firsthand as they entered the church.

It was a dignified and sedately happy celebration of a very big life with huge and continuing consequences for the United Kingdom and the entire world. Polite applause was also ubiquitous as the coffin proceeded past the many thousand more that lined the path on the way to the cathedral. This response was nice to see, to hear and to join in. It reminded me of the applause that Mayor Rudy Giuliani had led in churches and synagogues around New York City as the heroes of 9/11 were laid to rest in the aftermath of that terrorist attack.

This traveler regrets being abroad as America came under attack. But it is of substantial comfort to be among the British, who understand and share our pain and challenges as they confront their own.



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