Thought for the day — Facing our shared past with respect and honesty

Mural: Bobby SANDS MP. Tour: Murals, street art, and peace gate Belfast, Northern Ireland. © Allan LEONARD @MrUlster

Thought for the day — Facing our shared past with respect and honesty
by Michael WARDLOW
5 May 2021

What do the following have in common?

The opening of Northern Ireland’s first integrated school, Lagan College; the first De Lorean car rolling off the production line in Dunmurry; and St Anne’s Cathedral being finally completed. 

Well — they all took place 40 years ago in 1981.

For some listening, the most significant event that year happened on this day, May the 5th, with the death of Bobby Sands, a young man who died from malnutrition due to starvation, only days after slipping into a coma. He was 27 years old and had refused to eat for 66 days. Over the next seven months, nine other Republicans died on that hunger strike.

Over the intervening decades, Sands and the other men have, on the one hand, become icons for the Republican movement, while on the other, they are remembered as pariahs by many Unionists.

The same event, differently remembered — such is the power of memory and meaning.

Today will conjure up other recollections as well — good memories like birthdays and wedding anniversaries, alongside sad ones like family bereavements or lost opportunities. These diverse, very personal memories exist side by side, often within the same family or community.

The significance of any event is not measured by the volume of its recall.

This short reflection reminds us that we can experience the same day in different ways, depending on what memories it evokes for us. The past is like that — it’s not uniform, it’s not absolute — it has links to meaning.

It is my view that how we deal with our shared past will affect what type of shared future we will experience. Dealing with our complex past is not helped by playing down the significance placed on certain events by others, by elevating my understanding of history, my memories, over yours, by attempting to claim that God or “right” was my side.

Our shared past needs to be faced, by acknowledging that it complex, that it is linked to how we experience history being made, and that it cannot be properly understood unless faced with respect and honesty — and maybe, just maybe, accepting that we might need to say we’re sorry for the role we played in someone else’s history.

It’s also my view that how we deal with our shared past will affect how we move into this shared future.

So, are you willing to allow the opportunity for others to remember things you would rather hadn’t happened? For in such spaces are the seeds of reconciliation grown.

Originally broadcast at BBC Radio Ulster on 5 May 2021. Transcript provided by the author.

Image: Bobby Sands MP by Allan LEONARD @MrUlster used by license CC BY-NC.

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