The Common Good

Two Questions of a Soon-to-be Immigrant

In a few weeks, I will make a life-changing journey. After 33 years of living in Northern Ireland, and for very good reasons, I am about to become an immigrant. I'm excited about this move, not least because I believe that doing something new is one of the best ways to grow as a human being.

But two questions come to mind as I prepare myself for leaving home.

The first is, "What will it feel like to be an immigrant?" Will I be welcomed by the people in my adopted country? Will I stand out? Will I have to sell newspapers at traffic lights or wait tables in restaurants where the indigenous population refuses to work? Will I have slogans painted on the wall of my house telling me to leave? Will I have to rely on churches and charities to defend my human rights? If there is something wrong with my visa, will I be handcuffed and detained indefinitely?

In considering my own imminent immigrant status, I am very aware of how often I have failed to welcome the people who have migrated to Northern Ireland in significant numbers recently -- especially from African countries and Eastern Europe. I have not always sought to see the good in the faces of people who have arrived here, often coming from difficult circumstances. I hope people will respond differently to me as I move overseas, and help me find a sense of home when I get there -- that along with my own hopes of being treated with respect, I will learn to offer more sanctuary to people I meet.

The second question is, "What I will miss when I leave?"

Along with thoughts of my friends and loved ones, in my mind's eye I'll visualise the natural landscape -- from the reward of the view after the walk up the Silent Valley, to the way evening light hits the lough shore in Randalstown Forest. (To readers who have not yet been able to make a pilgrimage to my home country, check out this image of the Silent Valley reservoir, nestled in the Mourne Mountains of South Down. Not exactly a Himalayan range, but it's home.)

And, of course, there is our extraordinary political experiment -- the attempt to resolve a violent conflict, which at the risk of oversimplification could be described as being between Protestants who feel their identity to be British, and Catholics who consider themselves Irish, without victory or defeat, but through agreeing to disagree, to put the past behind us, and to share power for the sake of all the people.

It's got its teething problems, of course, but we are also often very hard on our politicians. This culture of "criticise first, ask questions later" is not only relevant to Northern Ireland, for we live in an age where cynicism so often trumps hope that it seems any talk about the humanity of our "enemies" is the interest only of a very small, very strange minority. But those of us who believe in the possibility of resurrection must resist the relentless undermining of kindness, hope, and the common good that appears to drive so much of our culture. And so I dare to risk the sin of overstated arrogance -- and to suggest that the land I am leaving may well have a useful story to share with the people in the land I am going to. So I want to end this post, in the midst of the busyness of putting books in boxes and finding people to whom I can donate my furniture, with the hope that we in Northern Ireland might, after decades of complicated and painful relationships, be able to commit ourselves to something simple: To decide always, before we start complaining, to try to see the good in each other.

Dr. Gareth Higgins is a writer and broadcaster from Belfast, Northern Ireland, who has worked as an academic and activist. He is the author of the insightful How Movies Helped Save My Soul: Finding Spiritual Fingerprints in Culturally Significant Films. He blogs at www.godisnotelsewhere.blogspot.com and co-presents "The Film Talk" podcast with Jett Loe at www.thefilmtalk.com.

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