Lockerbie: 30 years on

Today, I visited Lockerbie. 30 years since this beautiful small Dumfriesshire town became the centre of international attention for harrowing reasons.

I wasn’t visiting, because I was necessarily obliged to. But because after learning lots about what happened on the night of 21 December 1988, I wanted to come here alone and at my own expense to simply show my respect to everyone who had died.

Lockerbie felt like any other Scottish town today. Busy, with plenty of traffic flowing through the town and Christmas lights on display, like in other places. But, in a sense, it felt surreal.

Given the context of recent history, it feels honestly difficult to truly imagine the horrors of what unfolded 30 years ago in this very same place. It’s very rare for any Scottish town and it’s surrounding areas to face the scary prospect of parts of an aeroplane smashing into it’s ground after falling from thousands of feet in the air above. And it’s even more upsetting when people’s personal belongings end up scattered all over the place following such a sinister event above in the sky as what took place 30 years ago tonight.

11 people on the ground in Lockerbie lost their lives. A further 259 people, who were on board Pan Am Flight 103 travelling from London to New York when the plane was blown up, also died.

I spent about an hour today at the Lockerbie Air Disaster Memorial and Garden of Remembrance, situated about a mile west of the town centre. I felt hit hard by the scale of the tragedy, even though I have no direct connection to Lockerbie nor was I directly affected by what happened three decades ago. There are just so many names on display at the memorial, illustrating the magnitude of this particular disaster.

The feeling was very sobering and definitely is when being present at the memorial. It’s tough to let everything sink in at once, because the disaster was so enormous and so horrifying. People from many walks of life are understandably still feeling emotional about what unfolded all those years ago. There was a lot of flowers on display with loving tributes towards the dead.

And one person’s memorial, Steven Lee Butler, contained such a powerful quote on display which says, “Life is life – Enjoy it” – I hope those five words serve as a constant reminder to me and to you also to make every moment count in life, because it really is so short. Life really isn’t a rehearsal after all.

I don’t think I can ever properly imagine how ghastly the disaster was in 1988, because at the time, I was too young to understand what was going on. I have to rely on facts that have emerged about the events of that dreadful night and other people’s observations. But the key here for me is to appreciate what impact the disaster has had on not just Lockerbie, but Scotland and the world as a whole.

This disaster could have happened anywhere. Nobody on earth deserves to suffer the consequences of such an awful event. It’s so unfortunate this lovely and quiet Dumfriesshire town bore the brunt of such a tragedy. It’s so upsetting that this place will for a long time yet be associated with this particular tragedy for a long time to come. It deserves to move on.

On a different note, Lockerbie is a fine place to go and visit for even an afternoon. It’s situated within the quiet, but fabulous area of south western Scotland where anyone would be spoilt for choice for places to explore. Dumfries and Galloway is a great place to escape to, away from the hectic atmosphere of other parts of the country like, for example, the central belt.

Lockerbie is a place that deserves happier days ahead, particularly given the sadness people there and elsewhere worldwide have had to experience over the last few decades. Lockerbie doesn’t deserve to feel isolated – people across Scotland and the world should remember this place and keep it close to their hearts. And, especially at a time of year like this one, people should put their Christmas festivities to one side for a moment to remember that this time of year is not a happy time for everyone. Relatives of the Lockerbie disaster in particular, as well as people in the town directly impacted by what happened in the run up to Christmas in 1988, will be experiencing a difficult time. They deserve dignity, our love and respect.

The whole purpose of being in Lockerbie today was to reflect, understand and remember. Reflect on the impact of what happened 30 years ago. Understand what effect it’s had on the families of loved ones lost and on Lockerbie itself as a town. And remember all those who died. May God prevent such an incident like this ever happening again, regardless of where.

RIP to all 270 victims of the Lockerbie air disaster.

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