A bunch of flowers in the Shankill memorial garden this week that said from ‘the good people of the Ardoyne’.
(tweeted by UTV’ s Judith Hill)
There was no ‘sorry’. There are times for ‘sorry’ and there are times when, if the truth be told, ‘sorry’ doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
Many of those who were victims or who lost loved ones don’t want to forgive and they don’t think they should have to either. And who are the rest of us to judge them, they who are haunted by the ghosts of their loved ones daily?
The poet Phillip Whitfield wrote, ‘It is not the dead I pity.’ If you’ve ever looked into the eyes of the survivors you’ll know what he meant.
The flowers were a simple symbolic act of empathy. True empathy says something like: ‘We know you are hurting. We offer no excuses or explanations. Without words or preconditions we acknowledge your suffering and, in our own way, we also suffer because you are suffering.’
Empathy and compassion connect me to you, and you to me. Without empathy and compassion we will be forever disconnected, and forever at war. Without empathy and compassion there is no peace. Empathy and compassion can reach out over the abyss of decades of political and social segregation, and connect people who have never met but who have suffered the same loss and felt the same pain.
Frederick Buechner wrote: ‘Compassion is the sometimes fatal capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin. It is the knowledge that there can never really be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you.’
This was illustrated this week by a powerful moment on UTV live, hosted by Paul Clarke. Sometimes journalists get a hard time for only reporting bad news and whipping up tension so, with that in mind, it is worth pointing out that some of them do a brilliant job.
Two of the men on the panel were Charlie Butler and Mark Rodgers. Charlie Butler lost three members of his family in the Shankill bomb. Mark Rodgers lost his Dad in a revenge shooting three days later at the Kennedy Way cleaning depot.
In the twenty years since, the two had never met but when Mark Rodgers crossed the studio to shake Charlie Butler’s hand, they embraced.
“God bless you,” Mark said.
“And yourself. Your pain is our pain. God bless you,” Charlie replied.
Cornel West wrote: ‘We must never let our own suffering blind ourselves to the suffering of others.’
When we feel the pain of others it is no longer possible to hate them or ignore them, because we are a part of their suffering and they are a part of ours.
Those of us who want to build a more peaceful future must, like Mark Rodgers, cross our own metaphorical studios, whatever they may be, and say, ‘God bless you.’ And along with Charlie Butler, we must be able to say, ‘Your pain in our pain.’ They have shown us how to do it. The rest of us no longer have an excuse.
In a week when our political representatives were busy yelling whataboutery at each other on the usual television and radio shows, ordinary people were busy moving forward without them.
Thank you Mark Rodgers, Charlie Butler, and the good people of Ardoyne, for showing us the way.