Truth & Reconciliation

Group-Therapy1-300x185This is a fictional piece of work, in the first person, that I wrote about ten years ago, and which I published in my first book Fragments. I offer it now in the hope that it can leech some of the poison out of our national sport. The narrator is a Rangers fan, but that’s neither here nor there. He’s all of us, and we’re him, and that’s the point of the story itself.

“First, I want to thank everybody for letting me to get up and speak tonight.

This is like graduation day again. I’ve been here a wee while now, listening to you telling your stories, and I’ve sort of been dreading mine and looking forward to it at the same time. When I first talked to the counselling groups, you know, the guys who recommended you, I learned how good it could be to talk, and get stuff off my chest.

Talking helps. It lets me get stuff straight in my head, and that’s been important in keeping me going. Before this, it was hard to get up some days, hard to look in the mirror. That’s getting better and the more I talk about stuff the better it gets.

People tell me it’s best to start from the beginning, but I’ll spare you the story of my life.

What those folk mean, I guess, is that you start with your earliest memory in relation to the matter at hand, and for me that one is easy.

My earliest memory is being in my grandfather’s house, one New Year, and we’re talking maybe forty-odd years ago. The place was packed. I remember my father and his brothers singing The Sash, in the living room, arms around one others shoulders, dancing, with their glasses raised. I remember the pictures lined up in a row on the wall; Churchill and the two Edwards; the King and Carson.

I don’t think it was the first time I’d heard the song, but I remember my uncle Frankie coaxing me to sing it and then saying to my dad it was about time I learned the words to all the old war tunes. That I had to learn the traditions.

As best memory serves me, that was how it started for me, as a wee boy in that living room, bringing in the New Year.

I remember my first day at school clearly, seeing the wee boy from next-door getting onto a different bus from me and heading in another direction. He came back later that day and we played in the garden as usual, and to be honest I don’t recall us acting any differently toward one another, but a few days later I heard my parents talking about his family and their decision to send him to a different school.

Later on, I realised they meant a Catholic school. From that day on I started to see him as different. What caused that change? Was it the decision his parents took, or the attitude mine took? I still can’t answer that.

All I know is that we, the kids, had no choice in it at all. That’s how it is when you’re wee.

I remember a lot of similar things growing up; I remember my first July Parade, which was always a big occasion in my family. They took me down to Bridgton Cross. I remember a lot of colour and a lot of noise.

I’m sure it must have been exciting for a wee kid, and certainly, as I got older, it became something you looked forward to for months. I remember my old man and my uncles, my cousins, everybody really, dressed in their best suits, standing on a wooden floor in a wee rundown hall, applauding as I stood there on stage in a blue woolly hat my mother knitted, singing Derry’s Walls.

I must have been seven or eight at the time, and I was dead chuffed with myself that I had managed to remember all the words.

I didn’t understood the traditions, and I certainly didn’t recognise the way some people had warped them into hate. It was years before I could figure out even half of it, and by then I was in too deep, with a healthy set of prejudices of my own.

I still respect the traditions. I respect them to this day.

But there’s a difference between being proud of where you come from, and having contempt for everybody else. Even then, I had seen enough of the hate that I should have been turning away, but Glasgow’s one of those cities where you can see anger and hate up close on a daily basis. It doesn’t have to be tied to religion, or football, or anything concrete. It just is.

I remember one night, when I was about ten or eleven, an older guy in our street being abused outside a pub by my father and his brothers. I remember the look on my father’s face; I remember even then thinking the hate had made him ugly, that it demeaned him somehow. I remember how, after he and my uncle Terry had hit the guy a couple of times and seen him off, there was a real triumphalism about them.

I remember somebody throwing a big stone, and then they went back into the pub.

I was sitting on a step across the road, and I joined in when the punters started to sing the national anthem.

I knew all the words by then, more songs than I ever knew existed.

A couple of old men stumbled out on their way home and one of them slipped me a few coins for my singing.

My earliest memory of Ibrox still brings me out in a cold sweat; I know it wasn’t my first game, this is just the first I can remember. We beat Hibs by a couple of goals. I remember the way our midfielder scored the first. He cut inside a defender and drilled a low shot past the keeper. I remember being lifted into the air, almost thrown.

I remember the noise and feeling I could maybe get hurt, but my dad was there and I knew he’d keep me safe.

I remember the way the ground seemed to vibrate, the way it bounced when the crowd started up with the singing. I remember the flags and scarves. I recall my dad and his brothers. There was a man who lived up the road. He was there with his son, and the wee laddie started to cry after a surge in the crowd. I remember my father giving his dad a look of contempt before flashing me a big smile. I understood that even then. I’d passed the test. The kid hadn’t. I was a step closer to being a man.

My upbringing was solidly working class. We had very little money. I remember sharing clothes with my cousin, hand-me-down stuff as he got older. I remember my uncle Terry being out for work for long, long periods of time.

Yet, I also remember election day, and how the whole family rallied to vote Conservative and Unionist. I can remember, years after it happened, that my old man could still recite, almost verbatim, entire sections of Enoch Powell’s River’s of Blood speech, as though he’d been there to hear it for himself.

If playing with the Catholic kids was something the family frowned on, the idea of playing with kids of a different colour was so far out of bounds it was practically fantasy. I remember once, seeing a coloured man getting out of a smart new car on Byres Road as myself, my father and my mate were on the way to a game. I remember the punters around us just giving him dog’s abuse.

He had a business in the area, and was just caught that day in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I never forgot that scared look on his face or the words my mate said to my father.

“They need to remember this is our country, not theirs. If they don’t like it, they can sod off back to where they come from.”

I’m sure I’m not alone here in recognising the similarity between that sentiment and more current stuff.

We change only by degrees it seems, yet even then I was aware it was the car as much as his skin colour which pissed off the people around me. For sure, none of us were driving a shiny new motor.

I think I first became aware of what was going on when some of my family were arrested after John Paul I died. He’d been Pope for only 33 days, and my uncles treated it as some kind of divine statement on the state of the Catholic Church.

If memory serves me right, they got into it with a group of folk outside a chapel, people who’d been at a Mass for the Pope’s death. I think a lot of the Catholic community felt as if someone special had been taken from them.

A guy I went to counselling with said he remembered it well, that John Paul I had been one of those inspirational leaders who just connects with people. They called him The Smiling Pope, and people just had such high hopes for him.

Yet, I vaguely recall my old man sitting in front of the TV after hearing his brother had been arrested in the fight.

He was watching footage of the crowds in the Vatican Square; the whole world was in mourning, or so it seemed. My father wasn’t. I can’t remember the specifics, but it just didn’t feel right to me.

A couple of years later, I was in a car with two of the lads when we heard on the radio that someone had shot John Paul II. The driver was a guy I worked with. He put on the war music and we drove round the neighbourhood for a couple of hours, blaring it out the car window. We made a point of driving past the chapel. It seems insane now, but at the time it seemed … normal.

All the time I was growing up, I heard stories which, at the time, must have seemed as if they were funny.

Now they make me want to cry.

By the time I was in my teens, I was deep in the mindset. I started going to matches by myself, and a few years after that I was hanging about the pubs, first down at my own patch, then down at Bridgton Cross.

That’s where the action was, even back then.

Iheard all the stories about how Campbell and his team had gone down for blowing up Republican pubs, about how he and other guys had been preparing to take the fight to the IRA in Scotland. I had two cousins in the Forces, over the water in Ireland, and I had no problems at all with any of that talk. People like Campbell were legends down there, and the fact they were willing to take that step on behalf of the rest of us was all the positive reinforcement you ever needed that your ideas were right, there was nothing wrong in protecting your traditions and your culture, that we were standing up for our way of life.

I remember a group of us stoning a busload of Celtic fans when I was maybe 19.

I remember a broken window, and a guy slumped in his seat, blood running down on his face. The bus accelerated away. I remember feeling angry that we’d not hit them harder, but a certain sense of pride we’d defended our own turf, that the bastards wouldn’t be stupid enough to drive down our streets again, that a lesson had been learned.

And, of course, I’ve had intermittent nightmares about it ever since and in every single one of them the guy in the bus that day is me.

Going over to Belfast was another important thing growing up.

I was 22 when I went over there for the first time, and the impression lived with me for years. What I remember most was a sense that we were the last holdouts of the old Empire, that once upon a time Britain had been the dominant power in the world, and that power had been built and defended by men like us. Slowly but surely I was becoming less connected to the other things in my life.

This wasn’t a way to pass the time. It wasn’t a hobby. It was a way of life. You didn’t put this stuff away when you got home at night. You woke up in it. You grew up in it. You went to work in it. You spend your weekends in it.

It became the reason you ringed dates on the calendar. The reason you got your haircut. You booked your holidays from work around games, and marches, and traditional celebrations.

Coming back from away games was always my favourite bit, sitting in the bus with the lads, with the music up full blast, drinking a few beers, having a bit of banter and then back to the boozer for some live tunes, to score with the lassies.

Aye, good days. Good times.

See, on that bus, with the music blaring, the adrenaline pumping, the troops around you, singing at the top of their voices … in a world where we all did crap jobs, living one day to the next, singing those songs about the Empire, about how the British were best, about those ideas, those things that never die, that made us feel part of something important, part of something bigger than ourselves, something special.

That feeling was more intoxicating than all the booze we could get.

Who can resist stuff like that?

Who can turn away from it?

We Are The People. Was there ever such a glorious chant?

With the rest of the lads around you and behind you it was impossible to doubt it was true. It reinforces itself. The more you say it, the more you believe it. The more you believe it, the more you let the rest of the world know.

Then things started to change for me, little by little.

At first I could put my doubts to one side, but over time it got harder to do.

For me, I think it started with Mark Walters. He gave us our first jolt. God, I idolised that lad. He had something I’d never seen in a Rangers player before, and I found it hard to understand how some of our fans could sing this guy’s name at the match and then, when they got back to the pub, have the most retrograde discussions about race relations, and the need to “send them all back.”

Yet the emotions we felt at the games was quite real. We worshiped him.

I remember everyone in our community being enraged when, first Celtic, and then Hearts fans threw bananas at him, during matches early in his Rangers career. I was appalled by it, at Celtic Park even more than at Tynecastle where he was actually hit with one.

I was at the Hearts game, and it nearly ended up in a riot.

I don’t know how I’d have sat through the game at Parkhead. I would have been arrested, for sure.

That day at Celtic Park is still talked about by people I know.

Tony, you and I discussed it at our very first session, about how that day opened your own eyes for the first time about some of the people who followed your team. You’ve seen as much as I have, through a different lens, and it’s affected you as much as me.

None of us has blinkers on now.

The problems aren’t confined to one side, and they’re not about football any more than they’re about religion.

Some people are all about the hate.

It was hate that most defined me, for more years than I care to remember. After watching what happened to Walters, I despised those clubs and their supporters, the Celtic fans in particular.

Yet every time I criticised them for it, I followed it up with a familiar refrain; dirty fenian so and so’s.

At the time, the irony was lost on me.

It wasn’t just the religion. After a while, the politics started getting heavy.

I remember one day, standing outside the match, being handed a leaflet to join the British National Party. I saw a group of guys eagerly filling in application forms. I admit, I didn’t think much of it at the time. It was only later, when I saw one of the self same guys at the match, singing Rule Britannia, I thought about it a wee bit more. When the song was done he clapped me on the shoulder and told me it made him proud, because his granddad had died at sea, fighting the Nazis, during World War II

When I pulled out the leaflet I had stuffed into my pocket, when I actually read it, I couldn’t understand how he didn’t see the similarity between some of the stuff on that leaflet and the ideals his granddad, and mine, had fought against.

The first time I saw the fascist salute at Ibrox I got into a fight.

A few minutes later the ball was in the net and I was singing about being up to my knees in fenian blood.

As far as I’m aware I meant every word I was singing because, after all, we were The People, this was our country, this was what I’d been brought up to believe. But all that neo-Nazi stuff? Christ, no. I had been brought up to hate all that.

Years later, when I heard some guys in the pub refer to it as the Red Hand Salute, I lost the rag and asked them if they felt comfortable doing it, when people might not see the difference. I won’t repeat what they said.

It’s the religious element that still gets to me, though.

I remember meeting a girl in a bar one night and getting on really well with her, and then finding out she was Catholic and excusing myself to go to the bathroom. I left the pub by a side door, left her sitting at the table on her own, with two drinks in front of her.

Looking back, I’ve tried to kid myself I was worried about what other people would think if I took her home, that it was their attitudes, not mine, which caused me to sneak out like that, but that would be a lie, and I’m past that point.

I remember walking down the street one night and finding ambulances and police cars everywhere. There was a young guy lying in the gutter with blood running down his face. Was he dead? To this day, I still don’t know. I do know it was two guys in Rangers jerseys being questioned. When I got a chance, I asked one of the lads what the guy on the ground had said or done to kick it off. I was told he hadn’t done anything; he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. They seemed to think it was all a big joke and I remember being mortified as they were led away, mortified because I’d seen the jerseys first and assumed my people weren’t the sort to just attack a perfect stranger.

I assumed that, as if I’d known those lads for years, based on their jerseys and nothing more, and to clarify the point, the boy on the ground, wasn’t wearing colours or anything, and to this day I don’t know if it was a religious thing or not, or a football thing or not, or anything related to either one.

That’s not the point anyway; when it came to the guys who wore Rangers tops, I saw everything through the same blurred lens. They were my people and they could do no wrong.

Years later, when Jason Campbell, the son of our local hero, murdered young Mark Scott, outside the pub I’d grown up drinking in, for walking down the street in a Celtic top, I was in Paris, on my honeymoon and I was never more glad to be outside the city of my birth.

I cried that day. I’ve never admitted that before now.

I went to the bathroom, and I put on the shower, and I sat on the toilet, and I cried.

By my mid-twenties, I’d gotten all aspirational, wanting to try and climb the social ladder a bit. Why not, after all? I had a back-breaking job, with terrible wages, and the idea I might be stuck doing it frankly scared the piss out of me. I started looking at evening classes, and finally signed up for a couple. When I got into the reading thing, everything began to look different. The whole world opened up.

Because of who I was, I started out with stuff I thought I knew.

One of the first books I ever picked up was a biography of the Loyalist leader Gusty Spence, and I can tell you now it changed my perceptions in more ways than one.

Spence came from a place like mine, a wee run down rat-infested street in a rat-infested town. For a long time he saw the struggle in Ulster purely one way, as a battle between Catholics and Protestants where only one side could win. Yet time, and experience, began to change him, and he realised more and more that it was the working classes of both religions who were killing one another. He developed great respect for those in the Irish Republican movement, and tried to move the Loyalists away from violence.

Spence became ideologically aware. He envisioned a time when the working classes could set aside religious differences and come together. Of course, that’s not how it turned out. but on the Loyalist side he was one of the guys who pushed hardest for a ceasefire.

To me, his just seemed a more positive route.

Spence had been a great reader. His biography talked about how books had affected his thinking, and I started to read the kind of books he had, about civil rights struggles in the US during the sixties; how the colonies had rebelled against the British Empire; about Marx and Engels and how they’d seen the future and written the Communist Manifesto. Spence hadn’t bought into all of it, but all of it had advanced his thinking, made him susceptible to new ideas and ways of looking at the world.

When I read works by other Unionists I found them one dimensional in their thinking, very limited in their scope and lacking in originality or new ideas. At that point, I figured that if I’d gotten them so wrong maybe I should check out the opposition, in case I’d gotten them wrong too, and so I started to read about the guys who’d fought on the other side of the divide, guys like Collins, DeValera, Connelly and Pierce.

I found, to my surprise, a lot of the ideas they’d taken on board, and a lot of Spence’s own, had originated with a guy named Theobald Wolfetone, a Protestant, who’d founded the association of United Irishmen, in an effort to unite the working class against the affluent landowners, who had ruled Ireland by divide and conquer for years. Those rich individuals had no allegiances to Crown or country. They’d exploited religious divisions to keep people apart, and protect their own wealth.

When I tried mentioning some of this in the pubs I found either a reluctance to engage, which I found frustrating, or outright hostility, which I found a wee bit intimidating. After a while, I realised it was better to keep my ideas to myself, because voicing my growing opinions just got me into trouble. Around me, things went on as before, and I wish I could say my developing ideas were moving me away from that, but in fact I barely changed my ways at all, at least on the surface.

So, I still went to the pub, still went to the games, still ironed my shirt on the Glorious 12th and marched a few times a year with my uncles and, when he was fit, the old man. When he passed away a time later, I gave one of the oratories at his funeral do, held in an Orange Hall just outside Airdrie, which was where he was originally from.

After it, I sat around a table with the old men I grew up idolising, and I realised I had no kids of my own to pass this stuff down to.

Then it hit me, perhaps for the first time; would I have wanted to hand all this stuff down? I wasn’t stupid, after all, and never had been. I knew even before I started to get into the reading, there were gaping holes in all this stuff. There was too much hate attached to it, too much baggage, yet these old boys spoke with such passion and sincerity you just knew they had no doubts at all.

Did I want to wind up like that? Mind closed down? Telling war stories, and revelling in hate? Is that what I wanted for myself?

But of course, later that night, when the booze was flowing and the songs started up, there I was, just like everybody else, on my feet and clapping the hands, singing at the top of my voice again. I was still deep in it.

About six months later, I met Caroline, my wife. She comes from an old fashioned Ayrshire family, steeped in the cultures and traditions I knew so well from home, but like me an independent spirit. We got married in a registry office, not the church. I can’t stomach all that phony religious crap. It’s another irony of the world I lived in. My friends could talk all day about that ‘God and Ulster’ stuff, but very few actually ever attended the church they claimed to be willing to die for.

When she got pregnant a year later, I hoped it would be a boy. Despite my misgivings, I looked forward to taking him to the games. It’s probably a blessing that he turned out to be a she, wee Julie, now in her teens. She has no interest in football at all, beyond thinking Cristiano Ronaldo looks good in a pair of shorts!

She thinks the whole game and everything about it is stupid.

I realise now that for years I looked at guys around me and wondered what they were all about, and I thanked God I wasn’t like them, that I didn’t hate as much as they seemed to. I never considered myself a bigot, never believed there was anything wrong, never dug too deep to embrace some of the glaring contradictions in all of it.

I mean, I worked every single day with guys who were Catholics, guys who were Celtic men, whatever. My wife and I had friends who were Catholic, that’s what I told myself, ignoring the fact I’d never been to their houses nor invited them to mine. Was that sectarian or just a statement on the reality of our life? Whenever we did something it was part of the same crowds we grew up with.

That’s living in a bubble. That’s limiting your interactions. Yet, when I heard terms like sectarian, I never applied it to myself. If anything I looked at the other side, saw stuff I didn’t like, and I used that as the validation for my own prejudice.

But for what happened, I might still be kidding myself on today.

I guess you all know how my life changed. I’ve spoken to enough of you about it, in the one-on-ones, and I wrote some of it down for the discussion groups. I’ve heard some of your own stories too; some are quite similar to mine, if less dramatic. Some echo my own experiences, some are the exact same story, only in the mirror, with green replacing blue, with anti-Protestant replacing anti-Catholic.

Some of you here look honestly baffled by all this, by two branches of the Christian church acting like they want to kill each other. You have your own experiences, as Muslims, as Jews, as other religions, but everyone here can relate in their own way to what I’m about to tell you.

Before I begin, this will be the first time I’ve ever talked about it to a large group. One-on-one’s are easy. This has been harder, so please bear with me if I find this difficult to discuss in any great detail. Hopefully, I won’t break down.

I was pissed off and tired that night. I remember that mood very well.

We’d just gotten back from a Champions League qualifier in Russia, and it had been a right bad result. Delays had left a lot of the guys exhausted. The ride on the bus from the airport back to the city centre had been just terrible.

We got a taxi at Queen Street and headed down to the pub for a curer.

It was the back of nine when we arrived there, and the mood had been ugly all day beforehand. Some of the lads were so on edge you could taste it, and to be honest I felt the same way. My life hadn’t been going particularly well. I’d taken my final university exams the year before, and despite getting decent results I still hadn’t found a job I was happy with and I felt a bit under pressure at the one I had.

Standing in the bar, defiant, singing songs, part of the group again, I felt better, but only for a short time.

In fact, the stuff we were singing was starting to grind me down, because I found songs of triumphalism to be insulting, not just to me but to everybody in the bar. See, you have to think about it for a second, and think of how unusual it all was.

There we were, a bunch of working class guys, all of us dirt poor, some of us unemployed, taking pride in an Empire long since gone, the last remnants of which were expressed by a flag on the wall, representing the country that hadn’t given us a standard of living equal to how we saw ourselves in the world. The contradiction had never looked more glaring to me.

Every time one of the lads shouted We Are The People I felt sick.

Looking around, I saw no reason to class ourselves as anything special.

Here’s the rub though; as that feeling got stronger, my singing got louder.

It was defiance; that No Surrender part of me.

That part of me fought so hard to hold onto a notion of superiority because, in truth, I felt so damned inferior.

I now know that my own hate, my own anger, came partly from that frustrated sense that if we really were The People, as we were always saying, we would surely have been better off for it.

At shutting time I left the pub with four of the boys and we made our way down to the taxi rank. I was feeling rough, really exhausted. I wasn’t conscious of looking for trouble or being up for a fight. I just wanted to get home and into bed.

There were two lads at the rank when we got there, standing just in front of me. They were youngish, in their early twenties, and they were talking about a film that had been on the telly the night before; I remember that very clearly.

One of the boys from the pub started to sing The Famine Song. It was nothing that didn’t happen every night in that area, but this night was different cause the two young lads in front of us weren’t having it. The one nearest me turned and politely asked my mate to stop singing it. At first he ignored it and one of the other lads joined in, but this young lad was firm and determined about it.

And for some reason, the attitude this boy showed just went right to my heart. It just got to me, because there he was, this guy about twenty years my junior, his life in front of him, standing his ground.

He seemed to me to be the opposite of everything we were that night, and although my attitude, at least outwardly, was one of rage at the arrogance, of this boy trying to tell us what was what, looking back now, what my anger was really about was this lad didn’t seem to have any of the self-doubts I did. There was nothing smug about him. He wasn’t full of himself. It was self-assurance.

More than that; it was self-respect.

One of the lads hit him on the side of the face. He fell against the wall, and he got that scared look in his eyes, like he’d realised it was turning bad, and it shames me to say it, but that made me feel good.

The blood was pumping, we were on top. No Fenian scum was going to tell us what to do, not here, not anywhere.

I mean, that was my attitude exactly. No little Fenian so-and-so would take the piss out of me.

Well, although he looked scared he tried to square up, and one of the lads started punching him and down he went. At that point, his mate jumped in and I hit him as hard as I could, and that was when he ran.

Three of us, myself included, ran after this lad, and even as we were running we could hear the boy on the ground, as the other lads started giving him the business. We never looked back.

The boy we were chasing, he turned left and ran down a wee empty street.

At that hour of the night, it was dead out.

If he’d been a local, he might have been all right, but obviously he wasn’t.

He turned right next, and into a one-way alley.

That was when he turned and said words I’ve never forgotten. Where he got them from I don’t know, but they stopped me in my tracks.

He turned round, and he held out his hand, and it was covered in his blood.

“Look at that,” he said. “It’s just like yours … It’s just like yours.”

For me, that was it.

One of the boys took a swing and down the lad went, and they were on him in a split second, but I just stood there, frozen to the spot. Everything I felt, or at least everything I thought I’d felt, it was gone.

To this day I’m ashamed I didn’t step forward to help that lad until the guys stepped back, and they both looked at me without a word and ran out of the alley. It was then I went over to the lad and I sat down on the ground beside him.

I sat there and dug out my mobile phone and called the ambulance and I stayed there with him until it arrived, and then went in the back.

I was in a hospital waiting room with the police when I found out that he was dead.

It was the worst moment of my whole life, with nothing else even close.

I answered all the police questions, they took me to the station and they booked me, and held me overnight. I appeared at court a day later, got out on bail and went home.

Caroline had heard about it, and she’d already left with our daughter.

I looked around my living room, at the pictures on my walls, and I realised how similar they were to the ones my dad had up, and I hated it. I took them all down the same night, and I took them out into the garden and I burned them.

I went through all the old scrapbooks, I took out every photo of me at a match, or at a walk, or which connected me, in any way, to the things I was and the things I’d done.

As you all know, a day later I took an overdose which, thankfully, didn’t kill me, and that’s when I met Michael there, who told me about the counselling and this program, and they are the best things I’ve ever done in my life so far.

That’s also when I Tony, and thank you mate, the first Celtic supporter I ever sat down with and talked football and religion with over a pint. I’m still waiting for you to put your hand in your pocket and buy a round, but that’s alright!

He’d been here a few months before me. He had his own horrible story to tell.

He told me, as did you Michael, I wouldn’t feel better about all this until I got up and talked about it as part of the group.

I always thought this sort of thing was stupid.

How can communities which have spent generations apart actually come together and heal, just by talking?

How can you put aside past differences, and resolve to let them go, just by sitting around the table, and telling stories, and saying sorry?

Then I learned that’s it not a new idea.

They did in Argentina, for The Disappeared. They did in El Salvador. It worked in the Philippines, and in East Timor, and Sri Lanka. They did it in the United States, to resolve the long standing issues around the Greensboro Massacre, and in South Africa it brought a whole country together, and healed divisions no-one thought could be bridged.

We’ve never had problems on that scale here.

But we have too much hate in our society, and too much fear and mistrust in our communities.

We have too many divisions over our religions, our politics, and yes, even our football clubs.

Things that should bring people together have ended up driving them apart, and things that used to inspire friendship and bonds of community now destroy those things instead.

I’m not sorry for celebrating my cultural background any more than you are Tony, or you are Nathan, or you are Khan.

I’m not ashamed of where I come from; I’m ashamed that I let it define everything about me.

I’m ashamed pride turned into arrogance and arrogance turned into hate, and I’m ashamed I was too frightened, or brainwashed, or maybe just too damned ignorant to challenge it, and break free.

I never believed Truth & Reconciliation worked.

But it’s helped not just myself but a lot of other folk, some in this room, some outside of here, yourselves included. Talking about these issues has made a real difference in my life, that and being able to say the words we all have to say before we’re accepted into this group.

Sectarianism, like racism, is a form of self-loathing.

It’s bred by ignorance, but the hate we feel really is hate for ourselves, and what we are.

That’s what I think today.

When I think of all the wasted years of my life, spent wallowing in hate and angry at the world, and myself most of all, although I never knew it at the time, I feel ashamed and sickened and I’m just glad I’ve come, finally, to place where I’m at peace.

Thanks for letting me speak here guys, and thanks for accepting me.

My name is David, and I was a bigot.

That was the past. I am looking forward to the future.”

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