Last Friday I got a phone call asking if I could be free for an event this morning. Anne from Cooperation Ireland asked if I'd come to an event that they were hosting - an Arts event in the Lyric theatre, an arts event where Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness, the Deputy First Minister would shake the hands of Queen Elizabeth II. Anne said: Be on time.
Anne said: Dress smart.
So, this morning, dressed smartly, I was in the room with about sixty others - some politicians, artists, curators, funders, faith leaders, community workers. We milled around for an hour, drinking coffee and networking. Presently, we were clustered into little groups, and we met those people we call our leaders. The Queen, the Deputy First Minister and the President.
The handshake itself took place in a private room to the side. There followed a public handshake.
What does a handshake mean? Was it two people shaking hands? Was it two leaders? Does it start something? End something? Seal something? Does a handshake require some understanding? Why should they shake hands?
27ú lá Meitheamh, 2012
Because what’s the alternative?
Because of courage.
Because of loved ones lost.
Because no more.
Because it’s a small thing; shaking hands; it happens every day.
Because I heard of one man whose hands haven’t stopped shaking since a market day in Omagh.
Because it takes a second to say hate, but it takes longer, much longer, to be a great leader.
Much, much longer.
Because shared space without human touching doesn’t amount to much.
Because it’s easier to speak to your own than to hold the hand of someone whose side has been previously described, proscribed, denied.
Because it is tough.
Because it is tough.
Because it is meant to be tough, and this is the stuff of memory, the stuff of hope, the stuff of gesture, and meaning and leading.
Because it has taken so, so long.
Because it has taken land and money and languages and barrels and barrels of blood and grieving.
Because lives have been lost.
Because lives have been taken.
Because to be bereaved is to be troubled by grief.
Because more than two troubled peoples live here.
Because I know a woman whose hand hasn’t been shaken since she was a man.
Because shaking a hand is only a part of the start.
Because I know a woman whose touch calmed a man whose heart was breaking.
Because privilege is not to be taken lightly.
Because this just might be good.
Because who said that this would be easy?
Because some people love what you stand for, and for some, if you can, they can.
Because solidarity means a common hand.
Because a hand is only a hand; so hang onto it.
So join your much discussed hands.
We need this; for one small second.
© Pádraig Ó Tuama 2012.