Lockerbie bombing, 35 years on: Response of local people moved me to tears – Stephen Jardine
“Why do middle-aged men keep crying?” asked a headline this week. The answer suggested was that blokes are finally connecting with their emotions and feel confident enough to express them. My alternative theory is that there is just a lot more to get upset about nowadays and we all have our limits.
For some, it was the social media advert for a pub in Enniskillen featuring a lonely old man and a dog. It cost just £700 to make and managed to squeeze more emotion out of Christmas than the combined gargantuan advertising efforts of John Lewis, Tesco and Marks and Spencer.
For me, it was a new documentary on the Lockerbie disaster. It’s 35 years since Pan Am Flight 103 was blown from the sky over the Dumfriesshire town with the loss of 270 lives but the everyday horror keeps it as fresh as ever. Lockerbie is just 12 miles from where I grew up. As student, I spent many a Sunday night hanging around the town, waiting for the always delayed train to Edinburgh. All the images in the documentary seemed so familiar, as did the people. Those interviewed looked and sounded like members of my extended family.
They are the decent, ordinary people we don’t hear so much about anymore. Take the farming couple who found the body of young man in their field and didn’t want to leave him. Instead they stood vigil. “From that point, he was our boy,” they said. Another man told how his father had scooped up a body in his arms and taken it into town to avoid it being left in the dark and wet and to the mercy of animals.
Before the documentary started, we were given a content trigger warning. That’s more than they got in the town that night. All they could rely upon was an inbuilt sense of what was the right thing to do. That human decency is such a precious thing… not that you would know it. The people of Lockerbie won’t be popping up on TikTok or Big Brother or in progressive advertising campaigns on the telly. However, they are the people you want to be around you when things go wrong.
The American children’s TV show host Fred Rodgers used to say to kids, when something scary happens, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” In Lockerbie on December 21, 1988, the helpers were everywhere.
For some who spoke in the documentary, it was the first time they had revisited the experiences of that night and their emotion hit me too. Perhaps it was the senseless waste of all those lives lost in a place that seemed so unlikely but also so familiar.
Or maybe it was the fact that with everything going on in the world right now, decency seems a very underrated quality. It’s been traduced by politicians and ridiculed by morons on reality TV. We live in an age where looking after number one matters most.
But from speaking to a lonely old man in a pub to tending to some poor soul who was heading to America for Christmas but ended up lying in a cold Scottish field, sometimes what we do for others is the real test of who we are.
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