I wear freedom on my sleeve. No really, it’s there.
Time worn, on a less-toned shoulder than was its original home, there’s a shamrock, a selection of runes, and a single word.
This word, saoirse, or freedom in Irish, is far from innocuous. It was, when I had it cut into my skin, a representation of my passions for my Irish heritage. Still, there’s more to it than that.
I wasn’t a freedom fighter in my youth (not by any means). I probably fought more for the attention of girls or for GI Joe figures than for freedom. Why not have Cobra Commander on my shoulder?
No, this word is a statement on the Troubles that used to rage through the North of Ireland (for all my healing, you’ll note I still rarely default to calling it Northern Ireland). That there were troubles which raged within me as well… Those lines were not to be colored in until far later.
This tattoo was a claim to what I saw as my side of a civil war that featured (I’ll own part, if both can be acknowledged) terrorist bombs on one side and brutal apartheid on the other).
That word was to make clear that I’d never change my side. But then the impossible happened.
In the spring of 1998, a process began that saw the ending of a war I’d never smelled, never heard, never held… though it still defined me.
One of the key players on both sides of that transition, from war to peace, died Tuesday.
Martin McGuinness is a man on whom no consensus shall ever be reached.
To some he was a hero, to some he was a butcher. To some of his friends he was a traitor, to some he once targeted he was admired.
His transformation mirrored my own. It was said that while one of McGuinness’s colleagues was better with the words, no peace could be had before the field leader himself said the fight was done.
For me as well, McGuinness was a turning point. At first, I too thought him a sell out. A sell out to peace? A warrior who declared the fight complete? Who was I to say such things in judgment?
I came around. In little time really, the ideas of peace, the call to empathize… These became my new mantras.
And so I went from branded to scarred.
Suddenly my shoulder was a declaration of another kind. What had been resistance was now intolerance, even to me.
I never thought of having it removed, though I did hide it, especially from British friends.
Today, I hide it no more. That mark still declares freedom, though now it is a freedom from my past.
Like McGuinness, through him really, I learned that while hate is sometimes not a choice, overcoming it most certainly is.
Those old ideas, followed blindly by a young man wanting to belong, have been exchanged for ideals, ones I refine daily.
I still strive for freedom. I always have, and I think I always will.
I still look to Martin McGuinness for guidance. I always have, and I think I always will.