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Keep Calm and Take Lots of Pictures

As Travelers, We Can Stand with London by Carrying On

As a visitor to London, the first task is making sure you do your best to look like a local Londoner.

We’re headed to London this morning, where we’ll spend five days of our One-year Retirement enjoying one of the great cities of the world.

It’s been 20 years since I’ve been to London, and I hope it’s as inviting today as it was then. It certainly will be a different city in many ways, not the least of which were the three tragic terrorist attacks perpetrated upon this city this year, two occurring this month alone.

After each incident, we’ve watched with concern for the people of London. And admittedly, I’ve also watched with a bit of concern for our travels there, too.

Even though we hadn’t finalized the London leg of our trip, changing our itinerary really wasn’t considered. Much like the people interviewed on the streets of London in the days that followed the attacks, we had to “live our lives as best we can” and as the old British World War II motto implored, just carry on. We’d carry on as tourists to London, doing our small bit to keep the city’s economy humming with purchases of fish and chips and pints of Bass. We weren’t being heroic by any means, we were just living our lives. This philosophy made perfect sense — since living our lives as best we could now was exactly why we decided to travel around the world in the first place.

A year ago, we’d reached a point where a career hiatus was possible, and luckily we’d been saving for decades to provide for opportunities down the road. We had both lost family and close friends unexpectedly in the past, and those losses brought real clarity to our decision to travel, so we opted to move a year of our retirement up to now, and postpone our real retirement to later in life. We’d live now, as best we could, because who knows what tomorrow will bring?

On this journey, we’ve traveled to many cities that have been forced to respond to terrorist attacks, some only weeks before and some many years in the past. Bali, Nice, Mumbai, Paris, Nairobi and Belfast — in each city, the people resolved to carry on in the face of devastating acts of terrorism. And nearly 16 years earlier, my city of Washington, D.C. was attacked by terrorists, forcing me to evacuate from the Capitol where I worked. Afterward, we all echoed the same sentiment: We have to carry on. Just like we did in Washington, the people of these cities became more mindful, but left the terrorism fighting to the authorities.

That behind-the-scenes work of anti-terrorism authorities came into stark view as we enjoyed a glass of wine next to the picturesque Rialto Bridge in Venice, when my phone buzzed with a breaking news alert that Italian police had just foiled a potential terrorist attack on the very same Rialto Bridge. It was a dramatic reminder that we could carry on all we liked, but there were men and women behind the scenes doing all the worrying for us, and taking action to protect us every day.

I’m a World War II history fan, so I’ve always felt a sense of admiration for the people of England, and their ability to be unflappable in the midst of tremendous adversity. The photo of the British woman during the Blitz, drinking tea on a pile of rubble that circulated on social media after the London Bridge terror attacks is a fantastic image of the fabled British stiff upper lip, and it’s exactly how I want to see the Brits, then and now.

But times are complicated in London today. Terrorism, Brexit, politics, the divisions between rich and poor as evidenced by the Grenfell Tower tragedy — the British are carrying on, for sure, but they’re also in the midst of a very public and vocal debate about the future of their country.

Even with these challenges, today we’re driving into London (on what I’m told is the “proper” side of the road), carrying on and living as best we can. We’re not ignoring the threat, and we’ll certainly be more aware of our surroundings in public spaces. But we know now, just like we knew before we left America, that life brings about unpredictability. Occasionally it will be heartbreaking, but mostly it’s like London — exhilarating and a helluva lot of fun.

Sure, even though I’ll clumsily try to use British slang and act like a local, I will be very obviously just a tourist in this town. But today my admiration for this great city has evolved into a form of solidarity. As a London tube worker scribbled onto the subway schedule board after the bridge terror attack, “London Bridge will NEVER fall down.”

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