It was a Wednesday — a school night — and I wasn’t sure my mom was going to let me go. Somehow I had managed to get two free tickets to an A-Ha concert held at Belfast King’s Hall. My first ever concert. It was January 21st, 1987, and I was 13. My best friend, Esther, and I begged and pleaded and, finally, our parents relented. We were walking on air — maybe Morten Harket, the handsome Norwegian singer, would blow a kiss directly at us!
We fought our way to the front — a sweaty mass of bodies all shoving against each other — and in the end asked to be lifted over the barrier in order to breathe. I distinctly remember almost losing my shoe in the process. That night I stayed at Esther’s house, but we barely slept, giddy at being so close to the band, in love with the music and thrilled by the whole experience.
This is exactly how a teen girl’s first concert should be: a memory to treasure. A rite of passage when years of devotion to a group or singer pays off. Which is why it is heart-wrenching to hear that last night, 22 people were killed as they exited an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena in the UK. Another 59 were injured and 60 were treated at the scene. ISIS has reportedly claimed responsibility for the horrific attack — which, according to press, was a home-made device, the work of a lone suicide bomber.
Grande’s fans are primarily young girls; for many, this may have been their first concert. But instead of remembering a night of catchy tunes and fun with friends, they witnessed an atrocity. I can’t imagine the terror these children must have felt, rushing for the exits, praying to find safety.
Growing up, I never, ever expected to be bombed at a concert. Who would? Who could ever fathom the perpetration of a crime so cruel and barbaric, against innocent children? There is small comfort to be found in watching the city unite in the wake of this tragedy: taxi drivers offered to drive stranded people free of charge; people offered up rooms (including Sikh temples) to those who were unable to get home; hotels opened their doors for children who had been separated from their parents and friends to congregate in a safe space; restaurants offered free food to all those in emergency services. The public offered up their blood to the blood banks.
Like the rest of those residing in the UK, I saw my social media feeds fill up with photos of the missing, alongside contact numbers of the parents desperate to find them. I was heartened to see how helpful everyone wanted to be in reuniting families and providing comfort for those affected — how humanity triumphed over one sick individual.
It is difficult to know how to respond to the most unimaginable of circumstances — the worst terror attack the UK has seen since the 7/7 bombings. How do we protect our children in a world where such hatred exists? My son asked me today, “Why would someone want to hurt kids?” I found myself speechless.
Then I thought of what our Prime Minister Theresa May had said:
“While we experienced the worst of humanity in Manchester last night, we also saw the best. The cowardice of the attacker met the bravery of the emergency services and the people of Manchester. The attempt to divide us met countless acts of kindness that brought us closer together.”
I told my son that in life, senseless, shocking events can happen, but goodness will rise up out of them. That we just have to live our best lives, be our best selves, and enjoy every last second.
I picked up my daughter from school and she was humming her favorite tune of the moment — she’s obsessed with singer Olly Murs. I’ve often thought about taking her to a concert next time he is in London, and this has made me more determined to do so. I will never stop my kids from going to a concert and I refuse to change any aspects of my own life for one single second, because that would be letting evil win.
We owe it to every single member of that audience last night to carry on attending concerts, festivals, theaters, and events — singing along to our favorite songs, dancing until we are dizzy, squeezing every last ounce of joy out of life.
Every teenager should have the freedom to experience her first concert and go to school the next day buzzing with excitement about the adventure, that little bit more independent, that little bit more grown up.
Manchester, our hearts are with you.