As you will know, it’s almost a year since I finally relented to ‘The Blogmasters’ nagging and this blog began. I’m not sure if the blog has lived up to my (or his) initial expectations; sometimes it seems to have taken on a life of its own – but one thing is for sure – this blog is my story, or at least the part of my story which began on July 7th 2005.
I know I have blogged far more about July 7th and its ripple effect on my life, than I ever imagined; but it has influenced my life and changed me so much perhaps I should not be surprised by this really. I struggle to remember what my life was like before that date sometimes. My 1st life seems frozen in my memory as the moment we heard London would host the 2012 Olympics on 6th July 2005; but in all honesty I suppose that moment represents the end of one life and the beginning of another I was about to embark upon. The following day my life changed; and I began to change.
The title of this blog represents this new journey; but it also represents something else – the intertwining of so many other people and their histories and stories. People who were on the bus, or underground that day; others who lost loved ones, or indeed their lives in other conflicts too. Each one a person, with their own history and story; their own truth, travels with me in spirit on this new journey.
Stories and histories, which in the public domain remain untold. The media seem to me, addicted to conflict and violence – the events and acts; moments frozen in time. Yet somehow what seems to get lost in the telling of the event, is that this happens to real people, with real lives and emotions; each of these events leaving a lasting change in our lives. After the event and after the media have played out the event to their narrative and the 15 minutes has passed; we each have to start rebuilding our lives, often re-evaluating it, sometimes unable to continue on the path which we had previously taken for granted. Our real stories begin long before the public interest begins and continues long after the 15 minutes has passed.
In November 2005 a memorial service was held in St Pauls Cathedral. The Cathedral was filled with around 3000 people. I remember feeling very much overwhelmed that each of the people in St Pauls that day, had experienced the worst day of their lives on the same day. We all had a different story – survivors and their family members, bereaved family members, emergency responder’s to name just a few; each one of us with an individual story, our own worst moments. The one thing which united us, the painful memories from a date and time and a chain of events marked down in history. The second thing which overwhelmed me was that almost 3000 people were lost on 9/11 – another 3000 ‘stories’ ended – yet each of those 3000 people had friends and families who somehow had to find the strength to continue on their altered life’s journey. Each September 11th I can vividly recall being sat in that Cathedral full of people, and I truly understand the loss of 3000 lives. 3000 is no longer just a number to me. The names take almost all day to be read out, and I weep and sob for all those lives lost, and the many more forever altered.
Over the last eight years, I have been so very privileged to meet with others who have experienced a very profoundly life changing event; to listen to their stories, and the wisdom they have gained from their personal experiences. I have often been overwhelmed with empathy and inspired in my own journey when listening to each of their unique stories.
Often when we read or see news reports on conflict – particularly political conflict, we could be forgiven for forgetting that the conflict involves real people, the countries names get mentioned, and perhaps the political demands – and it can seem so complicated – particularly in conflicts which have been going on so long. We can lose interest, as it becomes impossible to tell who is right and who is wrong, or the news can be skewed to try and convince us that one of the ‘sides’ is more right than the other. Conflict is very complex, yet the complexity is very rarely fully revealed or understood. I think that is one of the reasons we all can feel so detached from the human suffering we see briefly in reports of conflict from around the world. But at the heart of it are real people; real suffering and real loss, real worlds turned upside down. Real worlds which somehow will need to be rebuilt.
When I have had the opportunity to listen to other survivors or bereaved family members on how a particular conflict has affected their lives, not only have I felt such deep empathy with them, I have also learnt a lot about that particular conflict. I’ve listened to people who have suffered during the Irish troubles, young Israelis and young Palestinians to name just a few. I have learnt that they are all just like me, both before and after the event which turned their lives upside down. Some have sought revenge and taken violent action themselves. Yet listening to their own personal stories, their circumstances and choices, I have come to realise those choices, although not justified, were understandable. Losing a loved one cannot be justified, so who is to say we can expect everyone who suffers that loss to behave in a justifiable manner? The extreme grief and loss of an unexpected un just death can make you behave in ways you never thought possible, and make choices you never thought you were capable of; choices which you may not be proud of at a later date.
Violence begins when our voices go unheard, our needs un-met, and we begin to demonise those who fail to understand us. When we tell only one side of the story in the news, or we focus on only a single narrative – the events rather than the real people and real stories, we further increase the risk of violence taking place, and more lives will be altered or lost.
As a survivor, dialogue can also be particularly healing – when we are able to listen, understand and see things from the perspectives of those who have hurt us, we are also able to take away the power of those events to continue hurting us. Past events cannot be changed, but the way we are able to see them, and therefore feel about them can. We cannot change the past, but we can become empowered to change our futures so past events no longer control or hurt us. It can be extremely liberating, and free us from any possible desire for revenge or retribution. As such dialogue can transform lives by breaking the cycle of conflict and violence. Dialogue is a far more effective in overcoming violence than any weapon or act of retribution.
By sharing these dialogues and experiences with the community we are able to help others who have not known such conflict themselves to better understand the unimaginable, feel empathy and empowered to work with us to resolve the causes of conflict. This is where those of us with a very personal experience of conflict can play an intrinsic role in preventing further conflict in the future – our voices can be heard in a way no journalists or politician or community leaders can. We have the ability to touch hearts as well as minds, and a powerful voice for peace; for only we know the true cost of the violence.
This is why I am so passionate about dialogue as a powerful tool for building peace. Only when we are able to sit, quietly and safely and listen to ‘the other’ are we able to begin to understand them; only when we begin to understand can we begin to move forward, to forge partnerships where once we have been ‘heard’ and have listened, we can begin to realise that person is not so different from ourselves after all, and we are able to start to work together to build a more peaceful future.
By sitting and just listening to the personal human stories of others who have known conflict, who have been a ‘victim’ or a combatant, or in some cases both; I have been able to begin to understand that there are many facets to the same ‘story’ and rather than judging, we should seek to hear out, and understand. In doing so, we may find we don’t feel so much anger any more, we may find we share far more with the person who has ‘wronged’ us than we could ever imagine.
The next time someone ‘wrongs’ you – try to sit and listen and to understand. You may well be able to work things out.