Open a Window for a Brain Breathe

The thing that really “broke” my brain (besides John’s delicious curry) was on the Hop on Hop off tour in Belfast. It was a sunny day; the tour guide was pleasant despite a detour (due to the Game of Thrones filming!) The tour guide then gave fair warning that we were headed towards West Belfast and that there were still people out celebrating the Union Parade. We crossed the border, now in the protestant/loyalist area. There was still the taste and smell of fire (what was left of the bonfires), recent giant wood mounds reduced to black smoking smudges. Streets were covered in Union Jacks and images of the Queen. We passed political murals and people who pleasantly acknowledged our presence. When we came near the bright yellow gates that are still locked at night and the interface wall; I felt my brain freeze. The wall is longer and older than the Berlin wall. Unlike the Berlin wall, the tour guide stated, it probably won’t be torn down overnight. This wall separates individuals and communities. Many cling to the existence of this wall as it symbolizes safety. I tried my best to be objective, minimal judgment. Despite my attempt, I couldn’t fight the feeling of being imprisoned. The wall just kept going, farther and higher up (we literally had to crane our necks all the way back to see the top). It was covered in peaceful messages and graffiti of hope (some from world leaders even). It had been like we heard so many times before: (and this is why I love Kerrin Smith’s play so much!) what’s under the drawings, under the messages of peace? It’s a wall that still divides. This wall covers the fact that these separate communities used to be united. So much time has gone by that people have forgotten that there are people on the other side. It isn’t uncommon that individuals forget that there’s a wall there worth paying attention to. It’s like an invisible force field.


At the point of taking this tour we had the opportunity to learn about the Troubles in so many forms and perspectives, for me, it was like my brain was still trying to piece everything together and make sense of it all. Going on this tour, seeing this wall, helped put every piece in its place.


In this moment of brain freeze, I had a compilation of small moments that I didn’t fully understand at the time come back to me. As these small moments came back, I thought “oh, now I get it”. One moment in time that completely went over my head before was when we first arrived at the Dublin airport. Our bus driver picked us up to take us to the hostel. On the ride I heard the bus driver passionately, yet softly, sing U2’s “Bloody Sunday” and simply concluded that he was just a U2 fan. I didn’t think of Bloody Sunday as a tragic event that could have directly affected him. It is no longer just a song. I didn’t think of, didn’t completely understand, the physical effect this conflict could have on a community until it was right in front of me. Pedestrians carried on like it was a normal day, people laughed children played. And there was a huge wall right between them.  


It was like someone had opened a window in my brain and gave it room to breathe. So instead of “break” I believe the term/phrase for me would be “breath into realization”. My brain had a moment to breath, and with that breath came an understanding.