I Survived The Westminster Attack Four Years Ago. I Still Think About It Today

It took a long time for me to accept that I cannot change what happened. Now I'm using my experience to help counter extremism and support others affected by terrorism.

Today marks four years since the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge and in New Palace Yard in London. In the space of only a few minutes on the 22 March 2017, one man stole the lives of five people, injured over fifty – including myself and my friends – and irrevocably altered the lives of the many more who witnessed or responded to the attack, or were related to those affected.

The incident marked the first mass casualty attack on the British mainland since the 7/7 bombings in 2005, and the first killing within the grounds of the Parliament since the assassination of Conservative politician Airey Neave by the Irish National Liberation Army in 1979.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t think back to the events of that day, even if only for a brief moment. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there have been countless times when it brought me to a very dark place; one of frustration, bitterness, anger, and inevitably, sadness.

I can recall the most peculiarly specific of details, from the typically grey British weather which occupied much of the day, to the brutal injuries sustained by myself and others who were struck by the vehicle, to the visceral images of those who died. Coming from Lancashire, I was visiting London for a few days on a university trip with friends when the attack happened. We were all injured; I sustained a torn ligament, several fractures, and a laceration to the left leg, spending eight days in hospital following the attack with two operations.

Beyond those initial few weeks, it was hard to foresee the months and years that would follow, recovering both physically and mentally, and I spent nearly six months on crutches and a walking stick, and over a year in physiotherapy. Similarly, I struggled with sleep in those first few months and with the incomprehensible guilt of trying to understand why I had survived, where others lost their lives. I feel very fortunate to be able to look back and reflect on the knowledge of how far I have come since then and it continues to drive me forward today.

“It took a long time for me to recognise and accept that I cannot change what has already happened.”

It took a long time for me to recognise and accept that I cannot change what has already happened, and I cannot alter the effect it has already had upon those involved, myself included. But I can draw upon my experience and that resilience to campaign for better support for others who may be affected by terrorism in future, and do what I can to counter-extremism within our communities and stymie the spread of radicalisation. This, I have found, is essentially the strongest antidote: helping others affected and being able to play what small part I can to prevent future attacks in the hope that it may stop others from having to share in our experience.

I feel no need to repeat the name of the perpetrator in this article, for I do not believe he or the twisted ideology he pursued deserve the attention they so desperately crave. While I believe it is important that we better inform the public of the radicalising narratives that often underpin these attacks, whatever their purported motivations be, we have to be careful not to play directly into the perpetrators’ hands by providing them with the recognition and affirmation that they so desperately seek in equal measure to the political aims of these despicable acts of violence.

Though I feel no particular conviction towards forgiveness, I reserve little emotion towards the man who committed the attack as the only focus of my thoughts has always been upon a deep sadness for everyone affected by his selfish actions. From the bereaved friends and relatives who lost loved ones, to those who survived their injuries only to struggle to understand the second-hand grief and guilt left by their chance survival – it has been of the utmost privilege for me to get to know so many of those affected by the attack, and their ongoing resilience in the face of such adversity will forever inspire me.

“So many of us travelled to London that day without any indication that our lives would change forever.”

Over the past few years I have found great benefit in the peer-to-peer support provided by meeting others affected by terrorism around the world, from Oklahoma to Utøya, Barcelona to Brisbane, all members of an unfortunate ‘community’ which no one would ever wish to be a part of, and closer to home I feel lucky to be able to call some of those affected by attacks in Manchester and London from vastly differing backgrounds, amongst my closest friends. The unspoken awareness that you’re in common company, and not going through it alone, provides incredibly powerful sentiment.

If you have a few minutes today I’d ask that you spare a thought for the many people around the world who were impacted by the events of 22 March 2017, and perhaps hold your loved ones that little bit closer. So many of us travelled to London that day without any indication that our lives would change forever, and for some, that their lives would sadly end.

Even though they are unable to meet in person and properly commemorate the incident with the due respect it deserves due to the ongoing pandemic restrictions, hundreds of victims, survivors, and first responders will be gathering in a virtual capacity to mark the date remotely. And I hope everyone reading this will join us in paying tribute to all of those affected.

Travis Frain is a survivor of the March 2017 Westminster attack and a research fellow at Rise to Peace. Follow him on Twitter at @travisfrain

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