One of the most interesting things about the work I do is that everywhere I go I meet people who have stories to tell. And what’s even more interesting is that most people trust me to share them. Corrymeela has been a great place for me to discover skills I never thought I had. The first one was patience. I’ve always thought the lack of patience was one of my major weaknesses. Yet last week I found myself working with disabled people, and putting up with things I never thought I could handle. Someone spit on my foot accidentally, and I was fine, I moved on. I had the patience to clean after everyone, open door a million times, spend 16 hours a day with them, and in 4 days I made 63 cups of tea for just one person. I had the patience to learn how to communicate with people who could not speak, or make any signs, and we understood each other perfectly. For one of the members you had to say the whole alphabet and they would stop you at the right letter, then you’d go again and again, and then you would have words on the paper. It was incredibly rewarding to see how smart these people are, and how much they know if they were given the opportunity to express themselves in any way they could. They were fantastic at quizzes! And i found out so many interesting things about their lives.
The second skill I discovered here was listening. Once again it is somehow related to patience but it involves a lot more. It’s giving people the right signals that you are willing to listen and offer moral support and understanding rather than judging. Every person who comes or works in Corrymeela has a story. And I’m lucky enough to get quiet moments with different people and it’s amazing how much they trust me, and how every time, at the end, I get told the same thing: no one here knows this. They are afraid of the communities they live in, not just because of precipitated judgements, but of actual violence. Northern Ireland is experiencing terrible waves of violence, still, and although we’re in a safe space here, it is hard to have trust when you see/hear of people being shot in the middle of the street, or families killed because someone threw a petrol bomb in their house.
There are so many horrible things taking place here, the hatred, the division, the hopelessness, and traps, the politicians, the violence. It’s hard to see this though, when everyone’s putting on masks, and acts like actors on a stage. They just try to hide everything they’re feeling, and hope it will go away at some point. If only the rest of the world would know these stories, the way people feel, and think, they would have a different view of the world, not just Northern Ireland.