Where There Were No Doors

Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before - Joseph Campbell

Monday, March 28, 2005

Travellers tales

When I was a child in Dublin I lived in a housing estate that was, when we moved in, still being built. It was the furthest point to which urban sprawl had extended up until then. A new estate on land that had, just a year ago, been outside the city. I didn't realise it until later, but I started life in a "liminal" space... a space between... a point of transition... a non-place; defined only by what's before and what's after, or what's north and what's south.

This has been a major theme of my life ever since.

But that's not actually what I want to talk about. You see, next to the housing estate on which I lived there was a large area of wasteground. And beyond that... the countryside. One morning the estate awoke to discover a large number of travellers had parked their caravans on the wasteground. Suddenly we lived next door to one of the biggest traveller sites in the country. Unsurprisingly there was an uproar.

I, like all children, was suddenly barred from playing on the wasteground (or "The Gap" as it was known). Which was an arse, as The Gap was the only interesting place to play (if you weren't into the "run around a flat field after a ball" kind of play). Needless to say, I didn't think much of the travellers as a result of that. "Who were they to steal The Gap from me?"

Then, or so everyone said, there was a spate of burglaries and car thefts which were clearly carried out by the new arrivals. A high wall went up along the north side of the estate. Now, even if the travellers moved on, there'd be no more playing in The Gap. Once my magical escape from the mundane... stolen by invaders and placed beyond a high wall topped with wire and broken glass.

Then they stole my dog.

I was out walking my still-just-a-puppy black labrador when a bunch of teenagers with the unmistakeable accent of travellers pounced on me, beat me black and blue, and ran off dragging my dog whining behind them.

Later that evening, my Dad returned from the traveller site with my dog (if life has taught me one lesson, it is that fucking with my Dad is a big mistake) and I remember telling him that I hated "those knackers!" But while he understood how upset I was, he reminded me that I was never to use that word. They are "gypsies" or "travellers", he would say.

"I'm not raising a bigot" was a refrain I heard whenever my youthful analysis of news events went into precarious territory. It's weird... my parents are gut-level Catholic Conservatives with views regarding homosexuality, abortion and other issues that I have serious issues with. But the reason I have those "issues" is precisely because they decided to raise me in such a way as to offer me the opportunity - that they didn't have - to choose my own path. And confident enough in my ability to choose the right one.

There is evidence they now regret that decision. But every day I'm thankful for it. And if I were to ever have kids (biologically unlikely unless I get that womb-transplant I've been after), that's how they'd be raised. A set of very simple core values; based primarily around kindness, respect for others and personal integrity; and then a solid training in rational analysis and objectivity (read the newspaper together and then discuss the interesting stories, drawing particular attention to any potential bias in the coverage).

Anyways, that occasion was the first time I recall him using the phrase "I'm not raising a bigot" about something in our lives... rather than a story on the news. It was a defining moment for me. Bigotry stopped being just about the words you use when talking about a world event. It was about how you treated, and thought about, other human beings.
To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
All pray in their distress;
And to these virtues of delight
Return their thankfulness.

For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is God, our Father dear.
And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love
Is man, his child and care.

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace the human dress.

Then every man, of every clime,
That prays in his distress,
Prays to the human form divine,
Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.

And all must love the human form
In heathen, Turk or Jew;
Where Mercy, Love and Pity dwell
There God is dwelling too.

- William Blake
One of the things my Dad used to say was "You know, statistically, it is certainly true that there were Jewish criminals, even murderers and rapists, in Germany in the 1930s." He'd just leave the thought hanging there, daring you to draw any conclusion other than, "True, but so what?"

On the day my dad returned home with my dog, however, he just reminded me that every other time a kid had picked on me, or harrassed me... they'd lived in a house.


Blogger L said...

It sounds like your parents did the right thing when raising you. My situation was somewhat similar (conservative Catholic family)-- only we didn't live near gypsies, and I didn't own a puppy (just a deranged cockatiel named Pippy).

29/3/05 01:31  

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