Friday, 22 February 2013

Being mixed up about love is a healthy sign

There’s nothing wrong with the girl…it’s just she is a Catholic.’ A sentence familiar in many households here, the gender and the religion are of course interchangeable but the sentiment is one that has been voiced throughout the decades. One of the ‘other sort’, ‘kicks with the other foot’ or from ‘the other side of the road’, oh the variety of ways we have developed for expressing the fact we are the same, but different and that that difference will forever cause a problem. Practically, it’s survival. Emotionally, it’s trying to not rock the boat. Technically, it’s sectarianism…but don’t say that too loudly. I’m not that far off the mark am I? Perhaps that’s why the Sunday matinee of the Lyric’s production of St John Ervine’s Mixed Marriage drew a near sell-out crowd, in fact the whole run is proving remarkably popular. The play deals with this sore and sordid side of relationships here and, set on the eve of the Ulster Covenant, is a powerful insight into the destructive hate that love can create in families. Of course these days things are not as volatile when it comes to mixed religion relationships, but there is still enough of an historical hangover to make it an issue. It’s actually a running joke amid my group of closest friends that we are the ‘next generation’, a mixed religion circle all of whom are in serious relationships with partners from the ‘other side’. It’s still noticed you see, by us and our elders. We make light of our ‘cross community’ status but I know some of us have not had it easy, with various concerns about how our choice of partner will go down with family members. But these concerns were few and far between and apart from them I know we are all quite proud of ourselves. It was not a deliberate decision by any of us but, in our choice of partners we have, in the most serious way, liberated ourselves from the invisible shackles of Northern Ireland’s past and its enduring, but loosening, grip on society here — from where you socialise and educate yourself, to whom you choose to share your life with. My friends and I are choosing to not make religion an issue. That’s why we can talk openly about our politics, our beliefs in integrated education and then move on to something else. But we have that luxury, many, like the protagonists in Ervine’s play, did not. Religious difference was not allowed to be ignored. And as I looked at the age range of the audience I wondered how many could personally testify to having been through such a struggle as that being played out on stage. The thought made me quite emotional. It was those who went before, who weathered all the strife, that made it possible for my generation to live and love in peace and free from it all. I wanted to shout out thank you, but I just held his hand.

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