Recently a young Belgian filmmaker asked me to share some thoughts about modern chaos. A few days later a Texas artist with close ties to the UK suggested I might commemorate the anniversary of the car bombing in London two years ago—after all I’d written about New Orleans the year after Katrina broke the levees. First, I thought about the courageous families of the innocent people who died or were injured in the car bombings. The senseless attack obviously brought them indelible grief and pain. But the disaster did something more: it imbued every person in London (and beyond) with an intrinsic sense of horror. As time passed, the shock wore off, yet for many people there was no return to life-as-usual. Like most of us, they could not escape the truth that what we now experience instead is life-in-chaos. Grasping this insight, I knew there was no need to write one piece about chaos and a separate memorial for London’s disaster of July 2005. From this new perspective, the two melded to become one and the same.





The filmmaker also asked me to free associate, drawing up a list of ideas that came to mind while thinking of the word “chaos.” I guess it was his way of handling the term itself rather chaotically. At any rate, with London in mind, I did what he said and turned up fourteen ways the car bombings left chaos behind. To my surprise, six of the fourteen descriptive terms started with the same syllable, “dis-.” The words included: disorder, disquiet, disruption, disturbance, disarray and disarrangement. I wonder how much of all these “dis”-es continue to grip the people of London two years later. Especially as the car bombs hit other parts of the United Kingdom. My sense is that when the chaos is so extreme, and reminders keep terrorizing the collective psyche years later, London is still pummeled by all of the aforementioned “dis”-es.

The myth of contemporary culture is that we are able to live everyday free of chaos and strife. We are bombarded with advertising campaigns that subtly lull us into believing comfort and happiness are our birthrights. All it takes is London or Dublin car bombings, an air strike on New York or a hurricane to wipe out an entire Louisiana city, for us to catch a glimpse of the precarious balance between living and dying. These disasters happen, and then chaos ensues, demonstrating how life is not fair to every one. But nobody is singled out for pain, or loss. Despite how it appears from a superficial glance, none of us gets a lifetime free from chaos. In big or small amounts, each of us will be “dis”-ed (as in disturbed, disquieted, disarranged, etc.).

While life may seem unfair in this regard, it is important to remember that balance is important—between instances of “dis”-integration (another “dis” word that could be freely associated with chaos) and other occasions when things go smoothly. Unfortunately this balance may be lost in chaotic moments, when the idea of regaining stability can seem impossible. This is especially true when the ‘dis”-es appear in a never-ending series, like the car bombings. In the worst moments, Londoners might feel the “dis”-es so strongly that things become senseless. In other words, life gets so chaotic that the senses no longer register familiarity. One may wonder “where is…” just about anything—the car, the supermarket, the bank or something simple like the keys presently clutched in a hand. Gripped by “dis”-es, a person can feel awfully lost in any environment, even places frequented for years. Immersed in chaos, familiarity itself becomes the stranger.

Unfortunately, there is no known antidote, or tried-and-true pathway through chaos. But as months go by, the roar of the “dis”-es subsides, and views of a peaceful London may capture the mind. At times, fresh prospects seem unattainable, due to the roar of unbridled violence. But intermittently the bellowing subsides, and if the mind has not clamped down on fear and negativity, the healthier vistas can be sighted. Then as years continue to pass, more and more images of stability may be garnered and held tightly.

World-wide, people realize London is doing well under the circumstances. It takes a certain amount of trust in the process of healing, but when it is there, a renewed sense of balance is inevitable. As the city mends, it is best not to expect a return to some old state of well-being, or even a new one for that matter. The better choice is to focus on the recovery process and not the results at all. Have faith the “dis”-ing of London will not ultimately lead to her ruin or demoralization. Instead, she will turn the other cheek—the one of extraordinary beauty for which she is known.