I’ve crossed that bridge so many times.
When I worked as a foreign correspondent for this newspaper, my family lived in a village on the green edges of metropolitan London.
When I had appointments in the city, I would take the train in to Waterloo Station. From there, I would take Westminster Bridge over the Thames to the complex of government buildings around Parliament.
The grand view of the Palace of Westminster – which houses Parliament – never grew old.
On Wednesday, that picturesque old bridge became a place of slaughter. As crowds strolled over the Thames in midafternoon sun, Khalid Masood steered his rented Hyundai SUV into them, injuring more than 50 people from 12 countries. Four died from their injuries.
He continued toward Parliament Square, where he crashed into a railing, burst into onto the palace grounds and knifed an unarmed policeman to death. He was then shot to death by police.
In the coming weeks, we will hear too much of Masood, who was born on Christmas Day 1964 in a town at an obscure edge of London. We will try to make sense of his motives and mourn his victims. We’ve seen this movie before - driven by some terribly distorted sense of mission, he sought attention by murdering innocent people. To that extent, he succeeded for a moment. But in the larger measure of what really matters over time, whatever point he was hoping to make will fade into obscurity.
This is the thread that links the bloody work of them all, from Eric Rudolph to Mohamed Atta to Omar Mateen and now Masood. Their acts of base cowardice only multiply the response of defiance and courage. They unify rather than divide.
Thursday morning, Londoners rebuked Masood by getting on with their lives. Extraordinary evil is no match for ordinary life.
Prime Minister Theresa May said as much just hours after the attack.
“Tomorrow morning Parliament will meet as normal,” she said. “We will come together as normal. And Londoners and others around the world will get up and go about their day as normal. They will board their trains. They will leave their hotels. They will walk these streets. They will live their lives, they will all move forward together, never giving into terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart.”
It was hard not to hear an echo from Churchill, who strikes a pose of eternal defiance in a statue in Parliament Square, near the spot where Masood was dispatched.
I was reminded of Lucy Bailey. In 2005 I covered the terrorist strike on the London Underground that killed 52 and wounded more than 700. In one of the early days after the attack, I sat next to Mrs. Bailey, an 83-year-old pensioner who was reading her book on the Tube. I asked her whether she was frightened by the attack. She smiled patiently and recalled 1940, when German planes rained incendiary bombs on the city.
“I think about that every time I board the Underground,” she told me, serenely, almost sweetly. “Mr. Churchill said we would have business as usual in London, business as usual,” she said. “It was a way of fighting back, wasn’t it?”
On Thursday, London commuters once again stayed calm and carried on – this time on Twitter with the tag #WeStandTogether. “Whatever you do to us,” Joel Goldman Tweeted, “We will drink tea and jolly well carry on.”
Many found inspiration on message boards outside Tube stations. “Bad things happen in the world,” someone wrote on a board at Richmond station. “But out of those situations always come stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
I’ve seen this time and time again. In 1998, I was dispatched to a sweet little village in Northern Ireland called Omagh. Earlier in the day, a bright summer market day, a 450-pound car bomb exploded, injuring 220 and killing 29, including a woman who was pregnant with twins. As is generally the case, the bombers seemed bent on maiming or killing as many ordinary people as possible.
Early the next day, a Sunday, I wandered the town assessing the damage and looking for people to interview. The dust and smoke had already been pierced by rays of defiance as the townsfolk made their way to church. In an instant, it was clear Omagh would carry on.
Atlanta also had such a moment. At the height of the Games, Eric Rudolph had placed a backpack full of pipe bombs and 3-inch nails in the heart of Centennial Olympic Park. The explosion sent projectiles flying through the crowd, wounding 111 and killing Alice Hawthorne.
The carnage would have been worse if not for the heroics of Richard Jewell, the security guard who spotted the pack and alerted officials.
No one knew how Atlanta would react to such a blind and brutal act of violence. No one knew whether he – or they – would strike again.
On the morning after the bombing, I walked in a warm drizzle from the old newspaper building on Marietta Street to the Five Points MARTA station to see for myself.
I’d been up all night working to get out the paper bearing the awful news.
Before dawn, Olympics officials said the Games would go on. But would the people return?
Less than eight hours after the bombing, I waited outside the Five Points station. The rain paused.
Eventually, at the crest of the escalator railing, I saw the tip of a ball cap. A couple of men stepped off. Behind them, a young family — parents and three small children, one in a stroller — heading toward the Olympic stadium for track-and-field events.
This was authentic heroism - the kind that forever unites London, Paris, New York, Orlando, San Bernardino and Atlanta.
And it will persist long after these cowards fade into ignominy.