Last week I had the privilege of visiting Healing Through Remembering’s exhibition, ‘Everyday Objects Transformed by the Conflict.’ Items in the exhibition have been contributed by people who lived through the Troubles and for me that’s where the story of this exhibition begins – with stories from ordinary people’s life and experience. People have given items from their ordinary lives that speak to them of those troubled years and the impact of those years. Something so ordinary as a police officer’s torch. Normally used to light the way the torch became a signal to slow down at a check point. Given from the memory and experience of the owner I found the objects evoked memory and experience for me. Everyday objects brought my everyday life back them back to my mind, experiences that were neither everyday nor ordinary. There was nothing ordinary about familiarity with a circling red light and the immediate knowledge that we were being pulled up by the police, would have to provide identification and explain our comings and goings. There was nothing ordinary about policing in this context, nothing ordinary about examining people’s lives lest they be carrying bombs or guns or about picking up body parts. Everyday lives were transformed by conflict into lives that were hyper alert and far too familiar with the things that make for violence. There was nothing ordinary about lives lived around bomb threats, the bang of a controlled explosion, taped up windows, dust in the air, the news of unexpected death and injury. The memories go on and on.
There is something unreal about the shrapnel exhibited. Taken from Alex Bunting’s leg it is a stark reminder that the disruption to our lives impacted body, mind and spirit. Alex courage in the face of what he has had to deal with is inspirational. His contribution to the exhibition should drive us to seek a better transformation. Reminders of the past may evoke memory and induce the experience all over again but unless those reminders summon us to new transformation then they are wasted. As Wordsworth put it:
Life is divided into three terms – that which was, which is, and which will be. Let us learn from the past to profit by the present, and from the present, to live better in the future.
In this future we live with the memory of the past. For some the memory is also the present but for all of us the everyday lives lived around trouble and unrest have been transformed. We are summoned now to a deeper transformation that comes from making peace with each other. We are summoned to live better in the future. Whether it be in Gaza, Iraq, South Sudan or the Central African Republic what becomes ‘everyday’ when there is violence is obscene and degrading, just as violence was degrading in Northern Ireland. There is enough suffering in the world. Transforming for the better what is everyday today means facing the challenge of making peace, repairing relationships and healing what is broken.
The exhibition is at 6 Lyndon Court, Belfast, opposite the old Athletic Stores. Go and see it.