Belfast Telegraph

Lynda Tavakoli: For Lyra's sake, could we not try walking, if not in someone else's shoes, then side by side along the same path at least?

Lynda Tavakoli never met Lyra McKee, but a neat stack of worshippers' footwear at a Middle Eastern mosque made her believe that the murdered Belfast journalist's death could finally set us along the road to peace

Lynda Tavakoli
Lynda Tavakoli
Murdered journalist Lyra McKee
Shoes placed at a mosque
Applause during Fr Martin Magill’s address

By Lynda Tavakoli

I was in the skies half-way over Europe when Lyra McKee was murdered, so it took a while before I became aware of events and, therefore, processed my reaction to them. I didn't know Lyra, but in many ways, I don't believe that was necessary in order to understand the type of girl she must have been.

I say "girl", for in all the photographs I've seen of her online, or on television, she looks like such a wee slip of a thing. By all accounts, though, Lyra was obviously a mighty force, who has left the kind of mark on Northern Ireland society few other individuals can lay claim to.

My mental image of someone I had never spoken to, or even heard of before, took on an unexpected significance to me, because I realised that I was evaluating news from home, thousands of miles away from home, and it seemed to feel different.

But how? Was it because, being so geographically removed, such an event seemed somehow quite surreal? Or because the further away one gets from local news in terms of hours and days, the less it impacts?

Fresh headlines also take over with lightning speed in the media - the terrible bombings in Sri Lanka, for example, followed Lyra's death within days and new headlines quickly swallowed up what had preceded them.

And then I watched Lyra's funeral service live by satellite on TV and it had to be one of the most powerful and moving experiences I can honestly remember witnessing.

Here was the start of a miracle, I thought. Not because of the turnout of dignitaries, or politicians, or the salubrious setting, or any of those other things that these days often pass as being more valued than anything else.

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No, it was the quiet and loving "presence" there of the people who cared for Lyra and were closest to her. This, along with her work colleagues and those others who (like me) may not have known Lyra personally, but attended the service, or waited on the streets outside to pay their respects.

Those same folk, in fact, who stood and applauded spontaneously (below) during Fr Martin Magill's address.

Much has been written since about the appropriateness of some of his comments. However, sitting many thousands of miles away in the Middle East, I was proud when the congregation rose from their seats to show their support.

Proud that someone had expressed so publicly and with such genuine integrity what so many of us are reticent, or even afraid, to voice ourselves.

So, it did seem like a kind of miracle to me at the time and judging by the reactions in the Press over subsequent days, it seems that change might actually now be possible.

After the broadcast was over, I sat quietly trying to put my thoughts into some sort of order, knowing that my reactions may seem overly simplistic in regard to something that was very far from being simple.

However, I'm not a political animal and don't claim to be able to articulate myself in the same way that seasoned political commentators do. I actually make no apologies for that.

Though looking out of the apartment window with a view of the Grand Mosque that day, I thought of my visit there the previous morning.

I'd not gone for any particular religious reason, but simply to appreciate the beauty of the grounds and the quiet affinity shown by the thousands of tourists who visited there for any number of reasons of their own.

In such a place, looking beyond the magnificence and grandeur of the mosque itself, I had discovered a kind of meaning in something innocuous: shoes.

They are required to be removed before entering any mosque and there are specific areas where footwear can be placed in little cubbyholes until your return.

As I went to retrieve my own sorry-looking sneakers and viewed the others still remaining, it struck me as a fantastic study of human beings, with each pair of shoes representing any one individual.

Most had been left together in a single cubbyhole, others side by side in separate compartments and still more were placed one above the other.

A child's flip-flops were crushed in beside a man's tidy brogues. The straps of a woman's fancy sandals sparkled in the bright morning sunshine. Each pair of shoes with their own story. Their own message. Their own owners' choices.

Metaphorically speaking, so it seemed in St Anne's Cathedral at Lyra's funeral. Everyone there walking in their own shoes and experiencing different journeys, but at the end of the day walking upon the same earth.

I may never have had a conversation with Lyra McKee, but I could imagine her saying something like, "Get over yourselves and start to recognise what's actually important to most of us - better job opportunities, a much-improved health service, funding for more inclusive education and empathy towards minority groups in our society."

This slip of a girl succeeded where many before her failed, by giving the rest of us hope that, at last, Northern Ireland is deserving of a true and lasting peace.

Can those people claiming to represent us (on both sides) finally rid themselves of their perpetual intransigence and prejudices, leading us on the road to nowhere? We shall see.

For Lyra's sake, could we not try walking, if not in someone else's shoes, then side by side along the same path at least?

Surely, it's not so inconceivable?

Belfast Telegraph


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