Twenty years ago this month my wife and I had a child- our first child. As all parents are, we were absolutely jubilant at the birth of our son. Wow! We had created this wonderful, if fragile, thing together! We adored (and still adore) him.
A year or so later, I got a call to my work to say that my son was ill. He had a tummy bug and was vomiting. I was asked to come and get him from childcare and take him home. I did so at some haste. I took this wee sick child home and did all that I could: I held him in my arms and cradled him in my lap as his wee limp body with his white face just lay there feeling awful. Even though I knew that this was not a very serious illness, I was upset. Why, I asked myself, is this happening to this precious creation? I was even (and irrationally) angry at…. well, I didn’t really know who to be angry at.
Over the next few days, my wife and I took turns to take time off work to sit with our son. We stayed up at night and we cleaned up when he was sick. We ended up tired and feeling poorly ourselves, but he was worth the sacrifice. We cared enough for him to reassess our priorities and to sacrifice the time and energy it took to bring our precious child back to health. Thankfully, he made a full recovery. But so vulnerable was he, that without our intervention- both the support of us, his parents and the wider family- he would not have done so.
Twenty years ago, here in Northern Ireland, another fragile and wonderful thing came to life- the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. It had many parents and many extended family members. At this time of its birthday, the Agreement is sick. It is vulnerable. It is in real danger. Are we, its parents and extended family members, able to reassess our priorities in order to give it the chance to recover; the chance of further life? This will mean devoting time and energy to it and to its principles of shared and equal citizenship; of compromise and companionship; of non violent and genuine political engagement.
Are we up for it?
Are we up to it?
Do we even care?
When our eyes are on the Westminster prize or on the long game of island unity only (nothing wrong with either of these things as long as they don’t supercede the fragile health of the Agreement) we neglect what was so hard to be brought to birth in 1998.
When we accept relative peace as being the real deal or we adopt a voter apathy approach to politics, we neglect the child we brought into life 20 years ago.
When we sit back and don’t get involved in living out its ideals, we forget the benefits the Agreement brought us.
Happy birthday Agreement. May you be brought back to health and may you take us all on the road to peace and reconciliation once again.