What happened Easter weekend 2017
Sunday 16th April 2017 @ 4:27 pm
It’s Easter Sunday – and I gave the Brighton bomber a lift yesterday.
The Corrymeela community continues to provide me with experiences and challenges and inspirations and conversations that I could not foresee. It’s Carafest … a mini–festival weekend here at the Corrymeela Centre in Ballycastle. The sea is roaring splendidly, the clouds are covering beautifully, and the sights sounds and smells of spring freshness are everywhere.
On Friday night I had the surreal experience of sitting 6ft away from Patrick Magee – who was sitting beside Jo Berry, whose father he killed in 1984. In the Brighton bomb. The one that killed 5 people, injured dozens more, and missed Prime Minister Thatcher by a matter of meters.
It is always interesting to note your own heart–rate and feelings through such an experience. I remember the Brighton bomb – I remember as a 12 year old watching the TV news coverage and being horrified at what people do to each other. At that age, and at that stage, it was a simple equation – an evil person committed an almost unbelievable act of terrorism by almost killing the Prime Minister … it was horrific. Simply horrific. Who would do such a thing?
Turns out this guy would.
Six foot from me.
Patrick spent 14 years in jail – released under the Good Friday agreement in 1999. And on Good Friday 2017 sat 6ft away from me, talking with the daughter of a man he murdered.
Without going into all the incredible details of their interview and conversation, I just want to relate one thing which stood out.
Years after the bomb, Jo got herself to a place where she was involved in reconciliation and restorative justice, and in this space, she thought she wanted to meet with Pat. After quite an effort it was arranged, and Jo and Pat were both invited to the same house the same evening.
They were given a room in which to chat.
And they talked for over three hours.
They have consequently met and been together over 150 times, and have shared the narrative of their unusual friendship … and the work toward restorative justice … in lands and regions where violence still rips communities and families apart.
The striking thing as I listened to them recalling their first meeting, was that Pat was armed for the conversation – he was ready to explain the justification. He was having a conversation to give the political reality and validation for his actions … he was a combatant, and they were in a war. War has causalities.
But some time into the conversation, Pat shifted, and asked to listen to Jo rather than give the understanding she sought. In his words, he only did so because something about Jo showed that she was listening.
She wasn’t fighting with him. She wasn’t undermining the political aims of the conflict. She wasn’t being angry and sparring for a fight – she was listening, trying to understand what would lead someone to plant a bomb in a hotel. And the bomber was disarmed – being listened to. Conversely, for him, being listened to invited him to listen to one of his victims.
There is no sweet happy ending here. There is no tale of monumental shift and grace and mercy and miracle. Pat is still a political Republican, he has never apologised for the war or for planting the bomb. They both live very different lives and hold very different views.
They both keep meeting, keeping talking, and keep the chance for further deeper engagement alive. And all because when they first met Jo kept a posture that told Pat she was listening to him. Properly listening. Listening to a human she had every reason to hate and mistrust. She chose to listen. And Pat chose to engage. And they are both now different because of it.
And I am different because I listened to them.
I have no doubt at all that some people will read the words above and be disgusted that I could write in positive terms concerning a human who did such inhuman things. A small bit of my soul struggles also. But this is Easter Sunday – THE day when we remember that death and darkness do not win. Light and love win.
Humans can change.
Forgiveness is possible.
Barriers can be brought down.
And when I saw the Brighton bomber beginning to walk up the hill limping on his stick, I stopped and offered him a lift.
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