Monday, 2 May 2011

Beauty In Belfast

A few days ago I took my first trip to Northern Ireland.  My visit there was brief, but I set myself a task.  I was on the lookout for beauty and planned to photograph it.

My associations of Northern Ireland have always been tainted by violence.  When I first moved to the Republic of Ireland over a decade ago, American friends would ask, “Will you be safe there?” The question frustrated me endlessly.  I’d explain that the Troubles were contained in the North.  I have felt safer living in rural Ireland than I ever felt in the United States.  I can take moonlit walks alone whenever I please; I don’t have to lock my doors or have a security alarm in my home; my children disappear outside for hours playing in the neighbourhood, and I don’t need to worry about kidnappings.  Fear is not something I live with on a daily basis.

Though the situation in Northern Ireland has improved tremendously, last month a young police officer was killed by a car bomb in Omagh, Co Tyrone.  While most people are committed to the peace process, it seems a violent minority will continue to fight their cause.  

It is worrying to see nationalism rising.  On the train to Belfast, I was disheartened reading about Geert Wilder’s increasing popularity in Holland.  His anti-Muslim stance and racist statements are shocking to me.  According to Time magazine, tight immigration laws in Europe are a sign of increasing xenophobia.  Are Muslims the new Jews?  Is fascism gaining strength in society?  It makes sense that when people are dissatisfied, during an economic crisis especially, many will turn to reactionary leaders.  Scapegoating can provide a sense of solidarity and security in a precarious world. 

These questions have been on my mind the last few days.  I planned to write about it before I heard of Bin Laden’s death this morning.  My reaction to the news is conflicted.  Reading my friends’ posts, comments, and general reactions on facebook has been unsettling.  Everyone seems polarized.  One group is celebrating and waving flags, singing the ‘justice has been done’ anthem.  Another group is critical and says violence only fuels the fire.  From my point of view, there is some truth in what they’re all saying.  How can that be possible?

I may not be able to answer that particular question, but I can share my discovery in Belfast.  I arrived with my camera ready.  I photographed some boring buildings and tried to capture a sense of place.  Where could I find an image that depicted the uniqueness of Belfast?  I puzzled and took shots but was unsatisfied by them all.

Then something funny happened.  I let go of my project and surrendered to being present.  That’s when I met Kuba, a Polish banker.  He invited me to a photography exhibit at the Red Barn Gallery.  It was the opening of the Polish Cultural Week.  I was offered free entrance, a glass of wine, and a chance to view Tomasz Tomaszewski’s project: Hades.  It pays homage to manual labourers and people who have lost their jobs due to the global economic recession.  It wasn’t exactly cheerful, but Tomaszewski captured his subjects perfectly.

Afterward, I wondered through the Cathedral Quarter and asked a couple of doormen outside the Four Corners for directions.  An hour later I was still chatting with Larry and Donny.  I could have listened to their Northern Irish accents all night!  We had a few belly laughs but the conversation turned serious as we discussed spirituality.

When Donny brought up Taoism, I had to keep my jaw from dropping.  I am usually the one who initiates that subject; he was speaking my language as he talked about the Middle Way.  It was refreshing to be in the company of someone who shares the same philosophy as me.  Avoiding extremes could benefit everyone these days.  Slowing down, tuning inward rather than projecting out, and committing to developing inner peace could help each of us not only heal ourselves, but also the world we inhabit.

The only photo I have is this one.  It is slightly out of focus because I didn’t stop walking while I took it. Even though the image is blurred, the sentiment is clear.  

Beauty in Belfast
A couple.  Full of hope.  Smiles.  An embrace.   The tenderness of young love.  Can you remember what that feels like?

Whether walking the streets of Belfast, the neighbourhoods in Poland, or the small towns of America, you’ll see the same scene over and over.  Aren’t we all the same despite our many differences?  We love our partners; we want jobs to feed our families; we long for dignity and respect no matter what our walks of life.

In my search to find something that made Belfast different, I discovered common ground instead.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...