I’ve just come back from holiday. We took the boat to Northern Ireland and spent a week visiting relatives, then drove north across the border to Donegal. As we drove across I suddenly had a very clear memory of myself as a teenager, being driven across one of the European country borders by my mum to some holiday destination. I vividly remember thinking how much I would dislike having to live on or near to a border between countries. Not being particularly discerning at the time I don’t think I managed to work out why that was; now I suspect it was to do with the fact that issues of geographical identity were particularly important to me, especially because I had no sense of belonging to a particular physical place.
The startling contrast was that driving over the border from Northern to Southern Ireland, I found myself revelling in being in a place between places, where somehow the physical identities of each country merged seamlessly together; one flowed into the other, rather than experiencing an abrupt change. I enjoyed the sense of being in a place where you could live on one side of the border but perhaps identify more with those across the ‘invisible line’ than with those fifty miles away in your own country. It felt good to be in a place that seemed to point more towards the commonalities between people – whichever social group they belong to – than their differences.
The question I asked myself in response to this inner revelation was about how people feel who do live on or near a border. I suppose I was thinking particularly about the European borders of my own experience, where there are no severe political tensions or open warfare; simply people living side by side who are born into different cultural traditions. Is living in such a space more likely to produce someone who is happier to dwell on the borders in other respects, not always feeling as though they need the safety of black and white answers to the difficult questions? Allowing people to be first of all people, so that other things which define them don’t draw unnecessary limits around who they are or what they have the potential to be?
I have no idea whether there is any connection between living on physical borders and being enabled to live in the borderlands of human experience, but to me they certainly have in common a sense of risk and excitement, as well as the potential to open us up to the possibility of our own transformation into a better version of ourselves. To learn to be comfortable with ourselves in a state of change, and withhold judgement on others; perhaps those are achievements worthy of a lifetime of living in the borderlands.