Ever since humans could understand each other’s grunts and draw geometric stick figures, we have been telling stories. Stories are and have always been apart of every culture around the world - from Ancient Greek Myths to Hollywood blockbusters, to both of them combined. Stories document the human experience, but more than that, stories are the human experience.
That’s why good stories are told, retold, and then told again. And that’s why I am going to tell you an incredibly moving story about Dr. Gill Hicks - a woman who dedicated her life to helping others after surviving a terrorist attack.
I heard Dr. Gill Hicks speak at the Human Rights Commission Diversity Forum, which was held at AUT, and her story moved me (and everyone around me) to tears. Gill is an Australian woman who moved to London, where she worked as an architect. A self-proclaimed work-a-holic, Gill was always “the first person to arrive and the last person to go home”.
Every morning and evening she would commute to work on the London tube, among thousands of others. Although Gill initially said hello to her fellow passengers, she quickly learned to keep her head down and shut up. People commute in silence, and the only conversations had on public transport are computer mediated.
She said that even when people were standing so close she could feel their breath on her face, she still wouldn’t look at their faces, as this was the culture. That’s why she never saw the face of Jermaine, the man who detonated a bomb two seats away from her.
On July 7, 2005, fifty-two people were killed and over 700 were injured when four suicide bombers detonated themselves on public transport in London. The attack was so sudden Gill said, “Imagine sitting where you are right now then suddenly being completely submerged in water.”
And the attack broke the normal commuter behaviour, as after the explosion everyone started talking to each other to check if people were okay. But Gill was not okay. Her legs were completely blown off and she was bleeding to death.
The first person to reach Gill was Tracey - a woman who is now her best friend. Tracey is a paramedic who was on the ground above Gill. The police had declared the underground tube as an unstable area - no one was to go in or out.
But Tracey ran in anyway, and other paramedics rushed in after her because “a women couldn’t go in there alone”. Tracey reached Gill and named her ‘priority one’, the person in the most immediate danger. She carried her above ground and handed her over to Andy, a “paramedic geek” who thought of the clever idea to pack Gill’s body in ice.
Andy also poked a hole into Gill and got a young police officer to breath into her lungs through a straw (much to his distress). Gill was then put into an ambulance with a man named Brian. By this stage Gill had no pulse and was technically dead, however, Brian refused to stop doing CPR on her as she was somehow talking to him.
Gill died for thirty minutes, and just as the hospital was about to declare a time of death, there was a pulse. The quick thinking and hard work of those remarkable strangers saved Gill’s life, and it was that display of unconditional love that moved her deeply.
Gill’s near death experience gave her an overwhelming sense of gratitude to be alive, however, it also made her mad. She was incredibly angry that such devastating acts of violence occurred to innocent people.
She was infuriated by the lack of peace in the world, and that’s why she created a charity called M.A.D for Peace (make a difference). The non-for-profit is based in London and aims to motivate the public to take responsibility for bringing about a harmonious world.
Gill has touched the lives of thousands all over the world through her motivational speaking, acts of service and her moving story. She has won numerous awards, including South Australian of the year 2015. And on top of all this, she has also become a mother to a beautiful little girl.
Gill’s optimism in the wake of trauma and respect for human life is remarkable, and I think everyone has something to learn something from her story. It demonstrates to us that humanity can be beautiful, despite what we may sometimes think.
It teaches us the importance and strength of kindness, empathy, and unconditional love. And most importantly, it shows us that no matter what happens in life, you are the only one in control of your own happiness. I started this article with one of Gill’s quotes and I shall end it with one too, as I believe her message is a powerful one.