This trip has been profound in many ways. I would say if you want to learn compassion through opening your heart to the world around you come to Belfast. One would be hard pressed to remain unmoved when coming in contact with the intense emotions of the city. Each person in our group came here with their own expectations fueled by their interests in the field of Psychology. They also more covertly brought along their own worldview, some of which they were aware of and some parts of which they were not. I brought a history of travel throughout the world, an appreciation of other cultures and a desire to understand the people of Northern Ireland, or the North as many refer to it. But, as is many times the case, when you start to think you are completely open to an experience and comfortable with the unknown you are tested. In my case I was tested with the reality that my heart had become closed. By focusing on my studies I had become distanced through knowledge and had unknowingly closed my heart. When I first arrived in Belfast I felt confusion and anxiety as I began to meet all the amazing people here. I was profoundly touched by their courage and resilience in the face of the reality of loss. I appreciated their ability to strive for more and hope to achieve a better future for their children than what they had experienced. But even in my acknowledgment of those things I was still amazed when I felt my heart open again and the compassion I saw around me. as that happened.
Up until today I have struggled with the various things I could write. Do I just talk about what we have done each day? Creating almost a cataloged list of our itenaray? Or do I talk about how being here in Belfast makes me feel? I have found myself doing the latter, although I admit this might not be very interesting to those who have no traveled here or are distanced from everything happening here. However in talking about my feelings I wanted to showcase the immense strength of the people here and my impressions of their courage. I have not wanted to discuss with any great depth the hardships that have been experienced, nor the one’s that are still going on. Today I reflected on this and realized that part of this was because I wanted to put the focus on the positive. I wanted those who have not been here to understand my extreme appreciation for the people of Belfast. For the openess of heart which in spite of all the trauma in the many years of conflict is still one of the biggest parts of the culture here. I come from Saudi Arabia. A place which has a dark side, but who’s people are some of the most loving and generous in the world. When I talk about my home I choose to focus on that side of the story and this is the same for here.
I know many people have not wanted to visit Belfast because of The Troubles and many years of conflict. However I would argue that Belfast is so much more than that. Today we met with the Lord Mayor in the City Hall. This building which is steeped in one side of the history of this country is just recently trying to embrace the other side. The current Lord Mayor told about his desire for equality and mutual respect on all sides. This is the hope that I wish people would see and desire to experience by visiting here. In his honest and down to earth discussion about the current issues facing the people of Belfast I saw some of the past, but also a hope for a better future. My hope is now that people who travel Ireland would choose to visit both North and South to be a part of helping the people of Belfast create their new identity, including learning about all parts of the amazing history of these people.
There are times in life that you experience another person’s life story in a way that really resonates with you. You feel their sadness, joy, anger, frustration, confusion and/or love as they tell you how their worldview was shaped. Each of us is a combination of our experience, shaped through our family, community and world our perspective is a tapestry of not only how those interactions with others has occurred, but also our response to them. My experience here in Belfast has been profound in seeing how resilience and courage come together with family and community ties to shape each person’s life. While there are strong similarities and binding identities within communities there are also the different responses that each person has to those identities.
I now have an even stronger sense of appreciation for how the people I have met are turning extremely hard experiences and differing community and personal identities into working towards a common goal. Experiencing their courage and resilience as they do such important work is inspiring, especially in the way each of them brings their own worldview into working on that goal. It is an important lesson in how a community with such a difficult past can bond together to accomplish amazing feats.
There are many times in life we face adversity. During those times it may seem like we are all alone as we face trying to overcome whatever obstacle has risen in our life path. However we are not alone, especially if we can find the strength to reach out to those in our lives who love us. During my time in Belfast I have been reminded of the power of community and how those bonds can take away that sense of isolation and help with resilience in even the hardest circumstances. The hardships many people in Northern Ireland have experienced are many times hard for me to comprehend. However the strength of their relationships and connection to community I can not only appreciate, but admire. I think this incredibly strong sense of connectedness to taking care of one another is the reason that they have been able to continue in spite of the hardships. I find myself learning many lessons as I talk with the individuals at PIPS and others throughout the city, many of which will stay with me forever, including how community can build resilience.
Courage can be seen in many ways. Some people think true courage is not when you feel no fear, but when you push forward despite your fear. Being here is for me a reminder of the second. With all the conflict over the many years the people of Northern Ireland seem to me some of the most courageous I have met. Despite The Troubles they remain open that caring. Underneath there are definitely scars, but in all my interactions so far there is a generosity of spirit that for me personifies courage. It is inspiring and amazing to experience, adding another dimension to an already incredible trip so far.