Don’t look back in anger

pexels-photo-461049Today I took a few hours to look round Vindolanda, the remains of a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall.

A simply stunning site that has achieved UNESCO World Heritage Status, and rightly so. Over 1800 years old, and remarkably well preserved. The remnants of the buildings, expertly exposed through decades of archaeological digs, is complemented by a treasure-trove of artefacts on display in the museum.

It was at one of the exhibition buildings that I came across a sign which quoted from UNESCO: “Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration.”

Absolutely true, but I think we can apply the same sentiment to us as individuals. Our history, personally experienced and passed down through tales of the past, goes some way define who we are.

We have a key role, though, in ensuring that future generations are respectful of that past but not necessarily defined by it. Better to be inspired.

My late mum grew up as a young girl in Eindhoven, with the city under German occupation from 1940 to 1944. Understandably, she developed a dislike (I wouldn’t call it any stronger than that) for anything Germanic. She would cheer on any football team playing against West Germany, as it was then. We didn’t purchase any electrical equipment from Bosch, Grundig or Braun.

Recently, I have contributed occasional pieces on Carrick Rangers for a football website. To make its World Cup coverage different, instead of asking the team of writers to contribute articles on the nation they knew most about, names were drawn at random and allocated to a country. The very instant I was told I had been nominated to write about Germany, I could not refrain from a wry smile, imagining my mother’s grimace (were she still alive to hear about this).

However, my mum always encouraged me to make my own decisions. She very much hated anyone being defined by their history, whether this was through their ethnicity, religion, or nationality. As a Dutch woman who had settled in Northern Ireland, refusing the opportunity to return to her homeland when my father died because Carrickfergus was now her “home”, she appreciated how welcome she had been made despite being an “outsider.”

So, on that basis, the German national team got my full attention, and I know my mum would have approved. She would also have approved of their early exit from the competition!

We are under enough pressure to be divided: by religion, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age, hair colour, pro- or anti- Brexit, the football team supported, being a smoker/non-smoker, our relative wealth, our relative health,….the categories seem endless.

Yet, we are all people. With feelings, emotions, ambitions, responsibilities and the potential to influence others. We need to make sure our influences are positive, or we will not be learning from the lessons of yesteryear.

This final quote, from the UNESCO constitution sounds really dramatic, but if you consider “wars” to be those small, internal battles that we have that determine how we treat others, the sentiment fully applies: “Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.”

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