April 7, 2007

Building bridges over the wall

The street disappears at the foot of an upright concrete mountain.

I saw the wall before the Belfast guide pointed it out. I was thinking, "Isn't that strange, a big wall in the middle of nowhere. I bet that's a jail back there." But there isn't a jail on either side--at least one that I couldn't see. My Irish friends, however, know all about it. The divider between two neighborhoods in Belfast is a tangible representation of lingering hate, a jail for both Catholic and Protestant factions. It hurts now to think of that street to nowhere.

While in Belfast, I was in a fog of sensation overload. The sights, sounds, smells (of fish and chips), were often too much to make me belabor the fact that I was living in what once was a warzone, and still is to some degree.

My impressions of Belfast, a month later, are a bit clearer. I'm beginning to take the discussions with my friend Mags in an entirely new way.

I'm a historian's daughter. My father, a Civil War, Kennedy and 9/11 buff, never was certified or anything, but he's passed his need to remember the past to me.

Mags and I were kindred spirits. She passed along her knowledge of Irish history, which she is majoring in, to me in small, digestible increments. I note now that I was the one who kept Mags talking, long after everyone moved onto other topics. :-)

I'd read up on Irish history before I went to Ireland, but the nuances of the history and the various interpretations of the past were never more apparent to me. While in Belfast, our friends not only talked to us about Irish history (and their living in it), they beefed up our knowledge with two films:H3--a great film about the hunger strikers, and The Wind That Shakes the Barley about Irish history. We didn't finish the second one because it was too early in the morning for bloodshed. As it turns out, Wind hasn't been released in the U.S. and isn't slated to do so until July. So, I'll have to wait.

In any case, this Time article: Postcard: Belfast, made me go back to the place I learned to love so much. The contentious walls, barbed wire and painted curbs are a reality for both past and present, but one on the fringes of my mind. I like to believe in the optimism of the article's author, that things are getting better. Mags and Pat Joe seemed to think so, but were wary of the country's direction.

Last night I finished The Kiterunner at 3:45 a.m. The reason I kept reading was to see if the Afghan narrator found redemption. He did to some degree, but the timeline wasn't finished by the last page.

I'm learning that there are no last pages or conclusions for a person or their country, just the way we view circumstances and how we move on in spite of them. Redemption is a choice, an act of bravery for everyone.

I want to see the walls come down, not only across the oceans, but a little closer to home. The destructive inertia of our time isn't unstoppable. Naive? Optimistic? I believe that there is Good in this life if we choose it. As for the rest, there will always be a few who never cross the bridges and walls that will always stand. As for me--and you can only ever be sure about yourself--I'm ready to be brave.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at April 7, 2007 10:01 AM | TrackBack
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