Thursday, April 18, 2013

This Little Light of Mine

Sometimes it’s hard to believe what is going on in this world. This week in particular has been difficult. Back home we’ve had the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, attempted attacks on elected officials, and the explosion of a plant in Texas. Here in Derry, we’ve experienced heightened violence and protests in response to Margaret Thatcher’s death. It’s so easy for us to get bogged down in what seems to be a world of overwhelming tragedy and hate.

Northern Ireland has experienced its fair share of tragedies. Not too soon after we heard about the Boston bombings, my host mother told me about her experience in the Omagh bombing in 1998. She was taking her children to the park in Omagh that Saturday afternoon and happened to pick up a hitchhiker on the road. Instead of dropping him off in the city center like they agreed, she offered to take him all the way home. On their way back through the city, they were diverted by police officers. The bomb had gone off roughly a half an hour before they arrived killing 29 people and injuring 220. By some stroke of luck, or perhaps fate, the detour to bring the hitchhiker home saved their lives. It is terrifying to think how close we are to events such as this.

But one of the things that I’ve learned in the past few years is that a bit of good, no matter how small can shine its way through the darkness. A picture I heard about in a podcast I was listening to reminded me of this. It was a projection on a wall in NYC of a famous MLK quote: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.” The words alone are moving, but below the quote, the universal NY font was connected the Boston Red Sox “B”  with a heart, uniting the symbols of rivalry.

It is small gestures like that keep me going. We saw that in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon: runners rushing to hospitals to donate blood, locals opening up their homes for complete strangers, and even just messages of support from across the whole country.

Sometimes all you need is a small example of hope to keep you going. I was privileged enough to hear the Dalai Lama speak today (you can read more about it here) and I don’t think it could have come at a better time. The Dalai Lama was invited by Derry’s own, Richard Moore, who has developed a special relationship with His Holiness over many years. A British Army Officer shot Richard in the face with a rubber bullet when he was a child and was blinded as a result. Despite this, Richard has met the officer who shot him and given his forgiveness. The Dalai Lama said that Richard is his hero for his ability to live a compassionate life.

The Dali spoke today about the importance of living a peaceful life. I could tell you about the inspiring things he said or the jokes he told, but I know that these are things that will fade from my memory with time. What I will always remember is the feeling I had, sitting with 2,500 other people, many from the city of Derry, listening to one of the most prominent symbols of peace in the world today, and applauding his every word. It did not matter if we were Protestant or Catholic. We were all experiencing the event together.

Peace flags on the Peace Bridge
welcoming the Dalai Lama to Derry

Dalai Lama speaking in Derry

Here in Derry, things are looking up. Yes, there have been petrol bombs thrown into the Fountain (a small Protestant community on the cityside) this past week, but this is a small minority of people behind such actions. The Dalai Lama called upon us to take action, and I certainly think that the city of Derry-Londonderry is headed in the right direction. In the words of His Holiness himself: “The last century was the century of violence. This must be the century of peace. My generation's century is now gone, but the future is still in your hands.”

Let us all work towards creating a century of peace. We have seen the affects of war and violence. It is our responsibility to do everything we can to make this idea a reality. I think Eleanor Roosevelt said it best: "It isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." Time to roll up your sleeves, people. 

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