Column: Potent symbols of unity
A friend of mine has just come back from Belfast. He had gone there to look at communities and issues of division.
He visited the peace line, talked with both sides and others about the Good Friday accord and the ramifications of Brexit.
It was an exhausting and challenging experience, with so much being familiar and yet quite different. He was a bit taken aback when I said in response: ‘the thing that struck me most on my first visit to Northern Ireland was the kerbstones’.
This was 30 years ago and I had just returned from working on integration in the new South Africa and my mind and eyes were tuned into symbols and statements.
In areas of tension or dispute at that time in Northern Ireland identity was often shown either with flags or murals or the kerbstones. Depending on the nature of the area they were either painted green, white and orange or red, white and blue.
This clearly marked out whose “territory” you were entering and for me this was both a powerful and disturbing statement at what was still a time of great tension.
Following this conversation, and with this memory fresh in my mind, I heard Kate Adie on the radio. At one time, BBC reporter Kate Adie was one of the best war correspondents for the British media.
The interviewer asked her what gave her comfort on her return to the UK from war torn locations. She replied: “The kerbstones.”
Kerbstones in this context were a statement of peace. Where she had been tanks and heavy vehicles destroy them; they get ripped up and used for barricades or improvised missiles.
The kerbstones of the UK, in situ and undisturbed, showed to her a community that was settled, peaceful and with order.
Even those kerbstones of Northern Ireland showed that while a statement of identity against another they were only visual markers rather than either destroyed or being used for destruction.
In the Bible, Pontius Pilate condemned Jesus at the pavement, where he had his judgement seat. (John 19:13).
Pavements and kerbstones are statements of stability and yet they can also be places of strife and where we notice the ways of humanity including injustice and violence.
It was at the pavement Jesus suffered condemnation and was condemned to a horrific death.
So, if before we have been told to consider ‘the lilies of the field’, maybe in these days leading up to Good Friday and Easter we need to also notice the kerbstones of the road.