Last week I was emotionally decimated by greatness. It started with a TV documentary featuring John Hume on Monday night and a factional film on Bob Geldof and Live Aid on Wednesday night. By the closing credits of the Geldof programme I was emotionally strung out, defeated, depressed. Both men had achieved so, so much by the time they hit 40. John Hume had set up one of Irelands first Credit Unions, was a leading figure in Civil rights protests in Northern Ireland, had started a house building scheme in Derry and was a founding member of the SDLP not to mention the fact that without him peace in Northern Ireland would never have happened. Bob Geldof (and let us not forget Midge Ure) organised the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas making it the biggest selling single of all time (well until 1996) and pulled off the greatest (possibly) live music event of the 20th century in order to raise funds for the famine in Ethiopia, and all in less than six months. Quite incredible not matter what you think of them personally.
This emotional decimation had, if the truth be known, started 3 weeks earlier when the first part of a series grandly titled, ‘Irelands Greatest’ was aired on Irish television. Its television pap, slots in perfectly to our cultural need for ‘The Greatest and The Best’ and I shouldn’t be so easily led but I was and still am. They’re not even Irelands Greatest (exceptions would be Michael Collins and perhaps Connolly), in my humble view, but those that voted for them obviously have no collective memory beyond 1916. Anyway, the point is that I have a fascination for people who achieve much in their lives. Probably because I haven’t and I always want to know what drives then, where that need comes from, that imperative, that force. However, before I go on let me categorically state that I have absolutely no interest in those who wish to be celebrities, famous and rich. It has no appeal for me at all and they, you, anyone can keep it as far as I’m concerned.
After watching the programmes on Hume and Geldof – as well as Michael Collins, James Connolly, Bono and Mary Robinson – I realised that I am singularly fascinated with those that strive for social and political justice, who just say ‘No’, no matter what the consequences are, who decide that ‘This isn’t good enough and I’m going to change it’, who are not happy with the status quo and go about changing our perception of it and the world around us. That I have a singular fascination has never really occurred to me before, I had never thought about it much, had never tabulated it. But, on reflection, I realised that for me, those that dedicate their lives to social justice are the most inspirational of all people.
What would we do without them?
Where would we be without them?
How less rich would our culture, our collective spirit, be without them?
They are the vanguard of our culture, they create new spaces for change to happen, mutate existing practice into new possibilities. I am nearly 40 and have achieved nothing, I exist. I have a beautiful wife and daughter. I have my health (which I seem determined to ruin with cigarettes, booze and a penchant for ice cream and butter) and that is about it. In most ways I am lucky, I am generally happy (contrary to opinion) but I have yet to create any sort of change, opportunity, equality. I haven’t stood up enough, said enough, (of the right things) done enough. But I suppose that is the mark of greatness. Great people give more, do more, are more, and out of that comes new life, new beginnings, new hope. Perhaps I should, we should, all draw energy from those who inspire us and do something about it. Everything is possible
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