May 15, 2071
Dear Northern Ireland,
Who’d have thought I’d be writing this letter to you, my younger self in the year 2021? Certainly not me. So many people told me that if I kept going the way I was going, I’d never see this age.
But the next few decades will teach you that life is full of surprises. That just when you think it’s game over, it’s all still to play for. Life is always fluid and brimming with possibility. Never lose hope.
Right now, I know you’re feeling edgy with Brexit and that constant talk about border polls and the break-up of the UK. You worry about the future. You’re consumed with self-doubt and negative thoughts. You fear it won’t take much to send you hurtling back to that dark place.
That’s only natural after what you’ve come through, but you’ve survived much worse. You’ll survive this too.
Stop beating yourself up about the past. You can’t change it but you can learn valuable lessons from it. Such as how you can’t always control what happens, but you can control how you react – and that makes all the difference.
Everybody knows you made a mess of things back then. If you were looking for troubles, you’d come to the right place. You attracted attention for all the wrong reasons. Outsiders shunned you. Young people left. All that Northern No-Mates stuff.
But even buck eejits have to grow up. Thankfully older, wiser heads told you it didn’t have to be like this. Don’t roll your eyes when I mention “the talks”. I know it wasn’t some overnight road to Damascus conversion, that it took years – in fact you’re still working through it. But it was the start of making peace with yourself, seeing other ways to live.
Of course, you feel defeated when the same old problems arise. I won’t lie – they’ll be tricky for years yet. All those big questions, like how to make amends to the bereaved. How to deliver justice? There’s the guilt and shame you internalise too, that you let it happen.
Harness those feelings a different way. Resolve never to go back there. There’s a way round every problem. Begin by being fair, compassionate, seeing it from all sides.
You’re only coming of age and you already know none of that turmoil was worthwhile, but that was the arrogance and stupidity of youth. All that self-righteous indignation, refusing to accept anybody else had a point of view. If anyone argued, you’d put them in their box…
Sure, you dressed it up with idealisms, talk of principles and defending all that was dear to you. Played on the old emotions to get a reaction, but where did it get you?
Actually, that’s why I decided to write to you. I can see you’re het up again. Politics is doing your head in. You feel torn apart, pulled in all directions.
It’s the last thing you need. Like a recovering addict, the temptation of one last bender is always there. Ignore those little devils on your shoulder, whispering that things might have to get nasty. That doesn’t work.
I know you blew up in public last month, but friends won’t walk away now.
I think the world of you – well I would! – but get over yourself. Stop the self-pity about your bad start in life. For decades people have encouraged you, slipped you extra pocket money to boost your confidence, given you chances, but don’t let that go to your head. Start standing on your own two feet.
Take people at face value, too. You’re convinced everyone has some hidden agenda, that they want to own you. Trust me, they don’t. To be brutally honest, some now mutter that you’re a basket case who’ll never learn. Absolutely nobody wants to be left alone with you. They’d run a mile.
Before other people can love you, you need to love yourself. There’s no easy way to say this but you’re suffering from an identity crisis. Get to know yourself better. Look in the mirror. Who are you? Who are your people? How did you get to here? Strengths? Weaknesses? Forgive the therapy-speak but start that journey of self-discovery.
What got you through those bad days? That most people didn’t pick up a gun but just kept their heads down and kept going, pulling together to make things better. Their “oul decency”.
You still have that. During the pandemic people united to fight Covid-19. Look at those community efforts to make PPE and help the vulnerable. Nobody talks politics in a hospital.
The point is: you weren’t the first offspring of difficult parents to feel unwanted, slapped about in disputes and the subject of custody claims. But you weren’t the problem, though everyone said you were.
Yes, you were clumsy, slow on the uptake, often hyperactive and hard to manage. But the problem was the attitudes of others, those who’d prefer you never were, some who did you real harm and others who did things pretending to protect you but which only did harm too.
From where I am now, I can say hang in there. Wiser words and cooler heads prevailed in the end. You’ve a place in the world and a right to be here. And there.
Self-confidence helps so travel a bit. You could do worse than make a few friends across the island. If you open up a little to others from elsewhere, you’ll see the benefits quickly.
Your great asset is your personality. People who don’t see the tiny distinctions only see friendly, positive people achieving things way beyond expectations.
Don’t be like those people who get born somewhere and then leave, never to return. Don’t leave an empty place at the table where you used to sit. You’ve so much to contribute. Even people who find you a pain would miss you if you were gone.
Even if you just ‘hang around’ being a spectacle, like those two big yellow shipyard cranes which have come to symbolise you, there’d be something missing if you were taken down from the skyline. Not everything has to be functional in order to have value for some.
Sometimes you do my head in too. I’m not even going to mention your fashion sense – all that red, white and blue and green, white and orange, those awful black and white phases. All those primary colours and never a touch of pastel. Try lilac, teal or aquamarine.
It would take years off you, believe me.
See you later, my friend.