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Sunday, January 5, 2014

Finding new hope from years of tragedy

By: Jennifer Blank Hecht 


Bright, clean and new, Tower Derry sits within walls built in the 1600’s to protect its people from a siege. While Derry’s walls have never been breached, these walls could not protect its people from years of violence and anger. As our taxi driver broadly smiled and carefully set our luggage on the street, we could never tell that the same street had once been littered with bomb debris and chaos multiple times. The unnamed driver mentioned that he was born in 1962 and had grown up in violence during The Conflict, also known by many as “The Troubles”.

Former postman, turned tour guide, Peter Garvin’s eyes welled up as he shared the intimate details of the tragic death of a family member during Bloody Sunday--his only real memory of another family screaming “Jesus!” when she heard the news. As we slowly walked past the murals that were passionately painted to remember the injustices that had been done to so many, Garvin highlights a few stories: a father who sat at the wall every day and talked to himself after his young daughter was shot point blank because she picked up a stray rubber bullet from the street and a British soldier deemed her as dangerous; an 11 year-old boy with a gas mask on to protect him and allow him to breathe due to the gas being emitted into the air by military.

Murals of The Troubles in Derry, Northern Island

These are just a few short stories that come from thousands and thousands of lives that were jeopardized, and ultimately changed, because of the divide between Nationalists and Unionists. This divide built not simply because of religion, but because of complex reasons woven together from religion, politics, economics, culture and power. And yet there is hope. Our taxi driver told us of the work being done to integrate Nationalist and Unionist children through education. “I think things are better now that they were when I was growing up, because kids don’t grow up the same way—with all of the violence”, he said. Even in the blustery conditions, Garvin toured us around providing examples of "my beautiful city”. While he does not forget, he has forgiven others for the death of his family member. He simply wants his city and its people to come together and succeed.

As we seek to listen and to understand the stories of the people of Derry, we hope to take this knowledge and understand how we can help make the world a more peaceful, aware and welcoming place, as the great people of Derry have begun to do.

How can you work in your daily life to make the world more welcoming and to get to know someone to understand another perspective better?

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