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After Boston: London bomb survivor says humanity can beat despair

By Gill Hicks, special for CNN
updated 7:44 AM EDT, Fri May 3, 2013
Gill Hicks was on a Tube train near Russell Square when Jermaine Lindsay detonated a bomb, killing 27 people.
Gill Hicks was on a Tube train near Russell Square when Jermaine Lindsay detonated a bomb, killing 27 people.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Gill Hicks says euphoria of survival saved her from feeling hatred for her loss
  • Images of those injured in Boston bombings resonated with her, she says
  • Hicks asks if we must forgive our hurt in order to heal
  • After years of thought, she says she realizes all we can really change is ourselves

Editor's note: Australian-born Gill Hicks lost both legs in the July 7, 2005 London bombings that killed 52 people. She later founded the charity M.A.D for Peace that campaigns against violence and extremism. In this message to the city of Boston, she encourages us to find hope in the "brilliance of humanity" and invites any amputees or survivors to contact her via her website.

Adelaide, Australia (CNN) -- It is just a brief moment in time, the time it takes to draw a breath, to click your fingers, the time it takes to detonate a bomb. Life, as you knew it, changed forever.

On the morning of July 7, 2005, I was just another anonymous commuter on my way to work during rush hour in London's crowded metropolis. I was short and spritely, weaving through what seemed like a never-ending sea of people to ensure I had a chance of getting on a Tube train. What I didn't know then was that a 19-year-old named Jermaine Lindsay, determined to detonate a bomb he was carrying in his backpack, was boarding the train carriage at the same time as me.

We were just seconds out from the station platform when "click" -- no bang, no boom, no noise at all, just a split second between life and death, between light and complete darkness. Although we were all anonymous strangers in that carriage, in those crucial moments we became each other's saviors, a much-needed hand to hold, a comforting and reassuring voice to hear, we became united in our disbelief, our shock, our pain and our absolute horror.

Gill Hicks
Gill Hicks

An hour passed before rescue could reach us, although the memory is one of timelessness -- the world had ceased to be, nothing made sense and my mind was trying desperately to process every aspect of what I was experiencing. I felt no physical pain, and yet as the thick darkness began to break, the light revealed it was only a thread of skin that was left attaching my legs to my body.

It was the brutal images of those who had lost limbs from the Boston Marathon bombing being carried from the scene that resonated deep within my heart -- for I knew, I knew what life is without legs, I knew what they would face in the coming days, weeks, months and years.

For me, it was the euphoria of survival, of having Life that ultimately saved me from feeling hatred, bitterness or indeed to seek revenge for my loss. I was Alive and I was still "Gill" and yes, although there was a significant part of my body missing, somehow my understanding of life grew. It was witnessing and indeed being a recipient of the brilliance of humanity that also shaped my "new" life -- and there was no better sign of this absolute brilliance than in my hospital wristband. It chillingly read "One Unknown -- Estimated Female." I remember vividly reading those words again and again and each time they revealed a deeper sense of humanity and what was important. That tag said to me that people actually put their own lives at risk in trying to save mine, trying to save as many as they could. To them, it didn't matter who I was, whether I had a religion, if I was rich or poor, if my skin was dark or fair, indeed if I was male or female -- all that mattered was that I was a precious human life.

Being "One Unknown" also told me that on that morning Jermaine Lindsay didn't set out to kill or maim me, Gill Hicks. He didn't know me, he didn't know what I thought or what I felt: to him I was conveniently placed in a group called "Them" as opposed to "Us." I've often thought, what if we had the chance to talk before he detonated his bomb? I wasn't given a choice, I wasn't offered a chance to "defend" my life; instead he presumed that I was his enemy.

Terror knows no names. Its list is broad and cruel, sweeping from Baghdad to Boston, killing and maiming those who have innocently been in detonation range.

Humanity knows no names -- just the value of every single life.

I allowed the brilliance of the unconditional love that I had experienced throughout my rescue ... to fill me and show me how to live
Gill Hicks

But must "we" forgive our hurt in order to heal? For me, the person whose actions took my legs is dead. He's gone. He is only a name to me. There is no chance for dialogue or for to say "sorry," to even want my forgiveness. My healing is what I now understand to be a continuous journey, one where I must always find strength in love, of self and humanity and to stay focused on what really matters; leading a life that honors my great gift.

Replacing the idea of recovery with a strategy for adjusting, adapting and ultimately accepting "change" has equally helped me to understand that I will never know what it is like to have my legs back -- to have that physical freedom again. I had to create a "new" idea of normal.

To be filled with hatred, as those who created such devastation, was never an option. I allowed the brilliance of the unconditional love that I had experienced throughout my rescue and the following months and years to fill me and show me how to live. I knew that my life, this Life number 2 had to be dedicated to making a positive difference and to building a sustainable peace -- to endeavor to eradicate ignorance in the world, replacing it with empathy.

While I wish the world would just "Stop" -- for there to be an end to innocent lives being killed or maimed by acts of terrorism or extreme conflict, I now realize, after years of deep thought, that all we can Change is ourselves. I hold onto the belief that If each of us, each "One Unknown" made a positive contribution to our own lives, that if we strived to grow to our full potential and truly honour the preciousness of being "here" -- then when multiplied, the acts of one become many and the acts of many can change the world as we know it.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gill Hicks.

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