It was 7am. Terror had struck London some four hours earlier with the force of a lightning bolt determined to make its shock felt far from its point of impact.
In a half-way house between my alarm sounding and my body waking, I reached for my phone. Countless push notifications told me a story I’d heard before.
Europe. Terror. London. Car. Stabbing. Dead. Injured.
Key words leapt from the screen as I pieced the story together. It didn’t take long for my chest to produce an audible sigh, my eyes to glaze over and for my heart to feel something it has felt far too many times before. A tired ache, hopeless despair.
Where to now?
It was a fruitless rhetorical. We knew where to go now. We’ve been there so many times before.
As I sifted through the information, misinformation and everyone’s two cents, the sense of familiarity enveloped me. Every last corner of this felt like routine.
In the four hours since Westminster went to ground and I had woken, the world had already come together and quietly gone through the motions.
The breaking news had come and gone.
We had looked desperately for the brushstrokes of good in an artwork of bad, and we found him. He – this week’s hero – was Tory MP Tobias Ellwood.
Social media users found the image they would circulate to counter-act the terror with an act of steadfast defiance. Their message was simple: We are not afraid.
A hashtag was born.
TV stations knew their duty. News bulletins were extended as TV journalists did their bit to keep the fear at bay. Information, they know, is crucial. Knowledge is power.
Politicians spoke up, voicing their sympathy for an all-too-familiar but harrowing tale.
Timelines emerged, details became concrete and news outlets did their best to give a blow-by-blow report on the events that unfolded. This is what you need to know, they told us.
The Eiffel Tower went dark in solidarity with those killed and injured – symbolism of the most universal kind.
The analysis, the investigations, the conversations on where and how we went wrong would come in the hours after my alarm sounded.
It was, as I soon came to realise, the unspoken terror handbook. The one no one had written or read or circulated, but one accidentally born from instinct and experience and a sense of duty.
We’ve built a formula for terror without a second thought. We’ve built a formula for terror on the basis of it being familiar, of having seen it all before.
Like riding a bike, when news broke, we each jumped on the saddle and began to pedal. We knew where we were going, how we were going to get there, and the role we would be playing.
Fear may have driven the terror, but fear wouldn’t be our response.
To wake and see the world silently come together in the most formulaic sense felt tired. It felt exhausted. It had all been done before.
To call it robotic would be to assume today was – and will be – void of emotion, and would undermine the outpouring of grief that inevitably comes on days engulfed by terror attacks.
But there’s something alarming about our instincts that feels so robotic. We’re not insincere. For sure, there are elements about the way we can bind intuitively together that is heartening.
It's just that we've become so good at it: the sincerity, the coming together.
We're used to fear and we're used to violence, and that is a tragedy that stands alone, right beside today's atrocities.
In all of the confusion and disbelief that comes from depraved acts of senseless violence, the attack in London has given us something to be certain of. We're good at responding to terror.
We respond just like clockwork. Just like riding a bike.