I read the news and feel depressed on the one hand and defiant on the other. The plan for a peace centre for Northern Ireland to be based at the site of the Maze Prison is shelved. Again. The politicians tell us they are going with the wishes of the people and the people, as always, say No.
Today’s ‘no’ is dressed in a suit and tie. Today’s ‘n’o has tidy hair and neat glasses and is polite. Today’s ‘no’ has sought the opinion of the people, he tells us, and in the wake of this incident and that incident, there is all the evidence we ever needed to stay bogged down in the past doing whatever it is that didn’t work before and we will keep doing it, because we can always find a reason to say no, and a reason to never take a chance.
In a summer where we experienced one violent protest after another, where we have watched the peace unravel and divisiveness gain ground, we now have a situation where our politicians lead by same old same old and we get the same results and then they say, ‘See? We told you so……’
I notice that all the comments so far on the BBC website are from one side of the community only. I notice, hearteningly there is a lone voice among them, saying he believes the stories of here can be told in a peace centre at the Maze, he says that they must be told and that they can be told sensitively. He lost people from his family including his wife in the bomb on the Shankhill. I admire his desire for change and I welcome his view that the stories are important ones to tell.
Yesterday, we commemorated the loss of people’s lives, in a post-ceasefire post-peace agreement bomb that happened in Omagh. Here we are, years after that, still dealing with the legacy of what we lived through, still needing creative solutions to change and to find a way forward.
Everyone has their narrative here. Everyone has their version of the truth. A peace centre in itself will not dictate a narrative which suggests something as trite as there being only one version of the truth nor that one story will dominate the other; rather it has the potential to reflect to us the complexity with which we grapple – and a locus to pitch ourselves towards an affirming future – one which does not deny us our stories, nor hide them because they are too painful, nor filter them because we only want to hear some stories and not others. A shared future, in my view, is one with ears. Our stories make us human.
A friend, an artist, who has spent the recent years attending a different church in Belfast every Sunday ( there are several hundred churches in Belfast) had pitched to do an installation of what she was discovering, in an old church in disuse, at the interface between the Shankhill and the Falls.
In the recent riots and disturbances around parades, permission to use the disused church was withdrawn, and so the installation couldn’t go ahead. I understand that people get afraid. I understand that people seek to defuse tense and difficult circumstances, and not to fuel them – but the wrong people do that at the wrong time.
All the while, the prevailing destructive dynamics play out over and over again. Doing something new and different seems, as ever it seemed, more of a threat than repeating the patterns of the past. We pull back, again and again, from the creative solutions and people scramble into their bunkers, ‘oh, we’d better not…………….’
The future will come, whether we like it or not. The future will be shaped, both by what we do and what we don’t do. It will come whether we have a centre for peace or not, but peace wont come, unless we choose it – all of us, in what we say, in what we do, now and tomorrow and the day after that and the day after that.
Story is the only way we can deal with pain if it is not to be deflected into rage and anger – and we are deeply afraid of pain and deeply afraid of really feeling our sorrow and our sadness; we get numb or we get overwhelmed. Ultimately the price we pay is that we never get to joy, and we never get to peace.
We need to tell the stories and we need to re-tell them until we feel that we are heard.
What are we saying yes to, when we say no to the peace centre? That’s what I want to know.