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I already feel better today than I did a year ago. A year ago, I spent much of the day sobbing.

June 24, 2017


This day last year was a day of sobbing interrupted by long dull aching.  It was a bereavement day.  I found that the nearly empty church was a very useful, insofar as if you feel like sitting in a crouched position, clenching your hands together, and letting tears roll down your face – they tend to let you do that there.

I’d been living in Ireland so long (despite traveling constantly back to the UK for all sorts of family and professional reasons), that I did not even have a vote in the EU referendum.  In other words, my European citizenship was to be stripped from me without me having any say in the matter.  Alienation without representation is tyranny.

On June 24th 2016, I spent the day feeling contaminated.  Following a campaign based on lies, hatred, and stupidity, it seemed to me that Britain had forfeited both the self respect and the generosity to call itself a nation living among other nations.  All identity is relational.  To break off relations like this with no plan in place to re-establish relations is not protective of national identity but rather threatens identity meltdown.

I went home and changed my Twitter and Facebook descriptors to “stateless migrant”.  Living in Ireland had/has never made feel less “British”, but rather far more critically and self-consciously “British”.  When I lived in London, or Cambridge, or Reading – I never felt “British” in the same way.  I wasn’t “the British guy” then – I was just “some guy”.  Migration, exile, diaspora – whatever you want to call it – does not dilute identity but focus it.

Mind you, a year ago, I was also Irish at heart, as I now am by law.  Ireland had (and has) given me a home and a family, and a role, and a community and a circle of friends and a whole set of attitudes and instincts and a way of looking at the world.

There are people of course, many of whom write tabloid headlines and editorials, for whom feeling that you are more than one thing is an inherently discordant and dangerous thing.  They preach that feeling a sense of empathy towards more than one nation is to be discouraged.  For them, identity is a zero sum pie made of limited slices – and the more you feel of one sense of belonging, the less there is for any other.  For such people, love is a finite non-renewable commodity and you’ve got to be careful how much of it you give.  Theirs is of course, a drab, joyless and colourless universe.  However, they have been in the political ascendancy of late.

For the rest of us – for just about everybody I know – love is not a pie but a muscle that grows with exercise. Feeling that you can love more than one place, and wanting both those places to contribute to something bigger than either of those places is the only sensible or creative way to want to live.

I’m now a proud Irish and European citizen.  But these identities don’t erase a British identity.  They can’t even erase an identity that already definitionally erased.  I don’t have a double strike through option on this keyboard – a way of expression a sous sous rature Britishness.  And of course erasures just draw attention to the effort of suppression.  The more you try strike something through, the more people will struggle to try to read it.

But my Twitter and Facebook descriptors now read “Irish and European citizen.  I can now travel to Madrid or Rome from Dublin and feel that I’m somewhere different but not foreign to me.  I’m a citizen of Europe and nothing European is alien to me.  And if my tax euros help to fix potholes in a road in Greece somewhere, then that’s partly my road, and if I ever drive on it (or even if I don’t), I’ll take a certain pride in it.

Meanwhile, the recent refusal of the British people to give hard Brexit a mandate and the re-engagement of young people with the political process makes me want to stop typing Britain and start typing Britain/”Britain”.  This does not make me think that there is a country called Britain at the moment.  But I do believe that human beings in general, including human beings inhabiting the north west corner of Europe, have a way of eventually working things out, and that one day, reasonable, hospitable, creative, imaginative and charitable energies will listen to one another and create a relationship of harmonious polities each of which is proud to be part of something bigger than itself and “Britain” is one of the words that might be used as part of this polity building nomenclature.

This process will take decades.  I don’t believe I’ll live to see it completed.

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