“I had a pretty dark period myself not so long ago,” my friend told me. We were talking in the pub about another friend who was in the midst of a significant personal struggle.
“I didn’t realise that,” I said. He told me a little more about it and then returned to his point about our mutual friend, what she was currently going through and how he wasn’t sure how best to support her. “Have you thought about telling her about your experience of depression?” I asked him. He looked off to the side for a few seconds. “I mean,” he said, “the problem is I don’t have answers to any of this stuff.”
The place I grew up – Derry and Northern Ireland as a whole – is an amazing place with the warmest, most generous people I’ve ever met. There’s no place I’d rather be were I to find myself in need of the help of a stranger. Derry is a city packed full of good Samaritans.
In London I can easily spend a day out and about and speak no more than a couple of words to another human being. It’s easy to feel invisible. A day out in Derry, on the other hand, can feel like a constant conversation. People talk to each other by default. They see each other. But Derry can also be a place where people are isolated and alone in the midst of a strong community. It can be a place where the things we need to talk about most go unaddressed.
We share a complicated and violent past. We have a serious mental health and suicide problem. We are a society where equal human rights are still not available to all. We have a host of unresolved problems and questions at the core of our culture and we’re not really talking about them.
Much of what we need to wrangle with about our past is confusing and complex and we don’t know what the answers are. So we don’t talk about it. But if I’ve learned anything from doing this series it’s that we all carry the same questions, no matter how deeply buried. And even in the absence of answers that is a comforting thing.
As I sat in the pub with my friend that day I told him I thought his not having any answers was irrelevant. It’s the questions that matter. The questions we share unite us even in the darkest of times, even when the answers we lean towards are drastically different, and even when there is no hope of finding answers.
Writing this series has been uncomfortable. More so than I expected. I realised that for all my inquisitiveness and proclivity for poking around in the past, I don’t really want to look at this stuff either. There is horror, injustice and untold pain in the communal rear view mirror and it makes me wince just as much as anyone.
In examining my cultural background I’ve had to take a closer look at my own emotions, biases and confusions. I’ve learned that much of it is still a tangled mess inside of me. But I’ve also learned that people from all sides are just as confused and conflicted about it all. I’ve had messages from or spoken to people in England, Ireland – north and south – and various other places across the world that have been touched by conflict in the distant or not so distant past. We all seem to share similar questions and don’t entirely know what to do with them. Just knowing that makes me feel less alone and more hopeful for the future.
If we can be more honest about the questions we don’t yet have answers to then a lot can change. If we are willing to look at the unresolved things within us we can be more connected in ourselves and in our communities.
Every one of us has a story. Your story is the clue to the questions you hold so deeply you don’t yet know what they are. I encourage you to wade into your story, your work, and your history and see what questions are waiting there.