Spotlight on Northern Ireland: H’s Story

This is the second in our Spotlight on Northern Ireland series, highlighting The Reader Organisation’s varied activity  in the area. This week, Patricia Canning, our Northern Ireland Project Worker, shares a moment of recognition with one of her readers: 

Recently, I read ‘Who Shall Dwell’, by H.C. Neal with a group of ex-prisoners in Belfast. Mostly men, they worked through the difficulties of the limited options open to the couple in the bomb shelter, who were subjected to heartbreaking cries for entry from outside. Not having any room for anyone else, and notwithstanding the potential drain on the limited resources inside, the couple were faced with a life or death situation. ‘I would protect my family at all costs’, said H, ‘stuff them – they should have built their own shelters instead of mocking this family for taking precautions’. D thought of the practicalities of letting others inside. ‘There’ll be a fight in such close quarters down the line, and what if you were to run out of food because your neighbours ate it?’

We read on, and the guys had a change of heart when we read of the woman who pleaded for her child to be allowed in, while she perished. ‘That changes everything’, said H, who admitted to not knowing what to do then. He sat quietly, as if pondering the reality of the situation, and looked pained to be contemplating his previously rigid view on saving himself and his family. I know this was hard for him because he served 26 years in prison for, as he puts it,’getting the bastard who hurt my child’. For H to even consider helping anyone other than his family when it put them at risk was a huge deal. I think he was surprised at his own compassion.

He read the poem, Charlotte Mew’s ‘The Call’, afterwards and was really moved by it. ‘It makes you realise you have to deal with things and just find a way’, he said, referring to the lines:

But suddenly it snapped the chain
Unbarred, flung wide the door
Which will not shut again;
And so we cannot sit here any more.

Whatever that call was, we’ve all had it. That something that makes us realise that we ‘cannot sit here anymore’, but must face whatever is in front of us – or indeed, behind us.

Next week: The final part of the series showcases the full range of the Northern Ireland project, including  groups for healthcare staff and postgraduate students.

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