Mass on Sunday in Londonderry / Derry was about peace. How appropriate that is considering where and why we are here. Peace and understanding is spoken about here everywhere you go. From the pubs to the meetings to the chance encounters in the lobby to Mass – peace. A common thread in a community that just years before had little sense of peace.
The Irish have a reputation for the gift of gab and nowhere is that more apparent than in the pubs. They are open, honest and full of stories, eager for a newcomer with whom to share. As visitors in this fine city of Londonderry/Derry our experiences at the pubs (and restaurants) have enriched our cultural experience as well as our general understanding. More than once, I heard the same stories but from different people and perspectives truly getting a sense of how much of our reality is our own. There are facts sure, like where something happened, or to how many people but the why it happened or the motivation behind it or most importantly, the way it felt to the person telling the story is so different.
I heard on a number of occasions the phrase, “It is only upon reflection.” This is something we all know to be true. But how hard is it to find this place of understanding and compassion when one finds themselves still in the middle of heat of the fire. One must step back, acknowledge the other story, the other perspective and find that place where you can find common ground. Peace is created through understanding; by building relationships and continued dialogue between two groups.
Last night in our closing program, I was overcome with just how far our new friends have come in their journey towards peace and understanding. Right before dinner, after each student had told their story, one guest came up to me. He spoke to me about the man whose story I told and complimented me on the story. He told me how he was friends with this man. Although 20 years earlier, the two men had been on complete opposite sides of the conflict – one aligned with the IRA and one aligned with the British Soldiers. The pain, conflict and violence both men experienced at the hands of the other is hard to know. But these two men, still with very differing views of where their country should go into the future, have a friendship. A mutual understanding of each other, free from violence. One where they are able to work together to create positive change in their communities and in bridging their two communities together. The strength and resiliency of the people of Londonderry/Derry astounds me. I admire them more than I could ever express.