For 28 minutes after the 2005 London Bombing, Gill Hicks was dead.
Strangers brought her back. It’s the unconditional love she felt from those strangers that Dr Hicks said helped her through her darkest days after she lost both her legs from just below the knee.
Dr Hicks, who describes herself as a peace builder, was the guest speaker at the International Women’s Day event held in conjunction with the Dubbo Chamber of Commerce, Dubbo RSL Memorial Club and NAB on Thursday night.
In the 13 years since the bombing that dramatically changed her life, the South Australian resident has devoted her time to working in counter-terrorism, often working with violent extremists themselves towards a peaceful solution.
Her message for Dubbo was for people to think of their life as a verb.
“We’re here for such a short period of time and while you’ve got everything intact and you can, do it. While you can, whatever you can do, get out and do because if you thought of life as a verb, as something that we did rather than complained about or put off until tomorrow... I think it’s just about soaking up every single minute that we can,” Dr Hicks said.
Everything was about a choice, she said. No matter what happens, everyone has the incredible power to choose how they react and respond.
“When I realised that my whole life changed suddenly I thought ‘I get to choose how I feel about being a double amputee’, I get to choose to feel positive when I can feel some negativity creeping in, I get to choose every action and response,” Dr Hicks said.
“That’s incredibly powerful and enough of us don’t realise what we have that no one can ever, ever take away. We get to have the power of choice.”
The peace builder’s attitude wasn’t always so positive. Dr Hicks said like so many others, she thought she was immortal. She was an Australian living in London, working in a high-powered job from 7.30 am until 10.30 pm every day.
Dr Hicks said she was into design and fashion, she collected shoes, and then her life’s trajectory took a different path.
“For me it’s been a 13 year quite lonely period of not holding on to things that don’t matter. I’ve become sort of the worst best friend because if one of my girlfriends say to me ‘do I look good in this?’ ‘do I look to big in it?’ and I say ‘it just doesn’t matter. What’s important is the breath you’re taking, it’s being alive, it’s being in the present and having a purpose and contributing to the world around you’. That’s what’s important,” she said.
The really transformational moment came from when she was rescued, Dr Hicks said. She said she was touched and felt absolute, unconditional love.
“I never talk about love lightly and I absolutely believe that that love saved my life over and over and over again. The love of strangers, the love of people who were willing to risk their own lives to save mine, absolutely changed my view, changed my understanding of humanity and absolutely helped me on my really dark days to know that people really cared,” she said.
Dr Hicks is the founder of not-for-profit organisation MAD for Peace. It aims to provide an alternative view for the ideologies and destructive ideas that she said violent extremists often succumbed to.
It’s really hard to measure what does success look like. Is that a day without a suicide bomber? I have to say ‘yes it is’,” Dr Hicks said.
“In Australia we can absolutely lead the way with how we’re looking at our narrative, how we’re getting in quite early and how we can intervene at a time when people are at the cusp of absolutely being drawn to a sense of our inner purpose; which is what the very sophisticated recruitment of violent extremism is all about.”
Her career includes speaking to the extremists themselves to see what made them choose the path and what can be done to get them away from it.
“Someone like me represents this is the outcome of that thinking. It’s not just the ideological thinking that’s destructive but it’s the action of those thoughts. I am the outcome and where has it got anybody? What has it proved?” Dr Hicks said.
“This is a time when violent extremism, when terrorism is something that is, I hate to use the word threat, but it’s present in all of our societies and I think it takes all of our societies to face it and unite by coming together and say ‘okay we can beat this by being stronger together’.”
On Thursday night Dr Hicks used her talk to the International Women’s Day event to not only share her story, but to talk about the incredible achievements of women.
“I think we are people who actually enable so much to happen but we never get the light shone on that. So for me International Women’s Day is also about highlighting just how valuable we are,” the speaker said.
“If we took out everything women did in the world it would be an interesting project. What does the world look like without the achievements of women?”
As a mother of a young daughter, Dr Hicks said one of the most important things she wanted to pass along were her actions.
“I encourage everything of hers. Every single thing she wants to do, there are no limits and I’ll always say to her, ‘if you want to be a librarian or a rocket scientist I’m here to make that happen’,” she said.
Dr Hicks said she also hoped the attendees of the event would take away something from her story and message.
“People are everything. Strangers saved my life. I always have a little piece of my heart that says even a single word or a sentence will fall onto the ears that need to hear it,” she said.
“That’s how I approach every single talk, that it could just be the thing I said tonight that could help change their attitude. That’s all I can ever do.”