Sunday, 23 August 2009

On being….second generation Irish

The idea for this blog entry came from an idea given to me by a friend of my parents. I have declared this blog to be a record of what I am daring to call a process of transformation, a spiritual transformation so what I write is within this context. I was born in London to Irish parents. Every summer we went to Ireland for the holidays and then come the end of August we returned to London for another year. When I was 11 the death of my grandmother on my father's side, provided the spur for my parents to sell up and move permanently to Ireland. My memory of this move is that it happened very quickly in terms of preparation. I never remember feeling any confusion around my identity in terms of how I saw myself when we returned to Ireland for our summer holidays. In my head I was Irish and didn't have any reason to doubt that. My blood was Irish, place of birth was of no significance.

But when we came to live in Ireland I understood very quickly that I was not the same as the other Irish girls. No baby is born with an identity, it is something that develops in line with the plan for human being. It begins the moment the baby is given a name, this is the first act of separation and the beginning of the formation of the identity. From then on the baby is called a name which is his/hers and on this the structure of identity is built. The purpose of the identity is to hide that out of which identity arises. Then comes certain pivotal points in the child's life where something will happen and the identity will make a decision about what it means and adopts a strategy to survive. These 'strategies' form the basis of what we call a childs personality.

For me my identity really kicked in when I started in an Irish catholic boarding school. As I said I had not doubt that I was Irish but I was shunned by all of the Irish girls, it was an English girl who befriended me in my first lonely year. My identity quickly realised that I didn't belong and I wasn't enough as I was to surive so it had to adopt a strategy very quickly to survive, that strategy was generosity. I would survive because I would buy friends, this was mostly with food so my things, so I was the one who always gave everything away. My identity decided that to survive I had to be generous. I remember how good it felt to be generous but what I see now is the the feeling good was me confirming to myself that I belonged and was accepted as Irish like everyone else.

About a year ago I met another woman who was also second generation Irish and whose parents had also returned to live in Ireland when she was the same age as me. She told me that when she had the realization that she didn't belong that she decided to survive that she had to be more clever than the others. This is how the identity operates, is purely random if the strategy decided on limits or empowers, this is open for debate. I assert that whatever the strategy decided on, it is flawed because it has been put in place to given up a weakness and in that way can never be powerful. The fact that I was born in London to Irish parents and returned to Ireland has meant that my identity has never got a firm grip because I have always been confused about my identity - who I really was. Not ever being really sure of where I belonged has meant that I can watch my identity and its antics and know for certain that it is separate to that which it has arisen from.

Years ago I thought about returning to Ireland to live. All my family are there and I was missing out on my neices and nephew growing up. After the initial shock of not belonging and creating the strategy of generosity to survive, I fooled myself into thinking that I was accepted as Irish, did belong and would be seen as Irish if I returned to live there. With this mind-set well established I registered to do a course on leadership in Dublin. I reasoned that it would be a good way of getting to know people in my preparation to move back permenently. A couple of days into the course, I was the room where coffee was being served and I heard someone say 'where's the English girl, I'm going to go for a drive with the American man and she might like to come to see some of the tourist sites'. I heard this and thought 'oh there's someone where who is English'. I turned around to look and at that point I caught her eye and she said 'oh there you are, do you want to come for a drive and I'll show you some tourist sites'. Words can't accurately describe the shock I felt, in that moment I was black in that boarding school with girls who didn't accept that I was Irish. Everything blurred into one and I had the sickening realization that I was never going to be seen and accepted as Irish, it doesn't matter what I do I will never be accepted or belong which is what I yearned for. I was so grateful to have seen this before I gave everything up in England. If I hadn't enrolled for this course I would have returned to Ireland fully expecting to be accepted as Irish and the first time I would be shown that this is not the case, would have been completely devastating for me because I would have given everything up. I suddenly felt such love for the English people because in all the time I proclaimed that I was Irish, it was never pointed out to me that I was English. The rest of the course went by in a blur. Another evening I was in the common room when a few girls came back from the pub. One came up to me and said 'so you want to come back to live in Ireland, see how far you get with an English accent'. Again in that moment I was once again back amongst people who didn't accept me. But maybe she was the mirror for how I didn't accept myself. My whole life up to that point was about my identity inventing strategies to belong. In that moment I saw no matter what strategies my identity created I was never going to be accepted as an Irish person.

I returned to England with such love and gratitude for the people. It was weird though because I went from only talking about Ireland and how Irish I was and how much I loved it to not wanting to talk at all. But this was just a shatted identity. My carefully constructed identity of being Irish had been shattered. It was slayed and what was left was authenticity - me as the child of Irish parents. I love Ireland and the people and now accept that if I was to return to live there that I although I won't be seen as Irish, I may be known as the English girl who came back to live, and I can live quite comfortably with that. The purpose of writing all of this is to not make anyone look or feel bad but to demonstrate a necessary stage in the transformation of human to spiritual - the shattering of the identity or the constructed self. The constructed self which has adopted strategies to surive which are illusory. To get to the spiritual the constructed identity must be deconstructed or shattered. My identity had constructed itself to be something it wasn't and if I was to progress along my self-declared spiritual path it had to be torn down to allow something new to emerge. It is only shock that deconstructs or shatters the identity. It was shock that shattered the identity of Eckhart Tolle when alone in his bedsit he said 'I cannot live with myself, who is 'I' and who is 'myself' - bang, that was it, the shock to the identity was such that he lost consciousness and when he awoke he had made the transformation from human to spiritual - it marks the end of the game called human being and the emergence of that which the identity hid - the spiritual.

My childhood friend is also second generation Irish but unlike me his parents never returned to live in Ireland. His family always kept alive Irish traditions and may have entertained a desire to return to live there but they never did even though like us they always returned there for the summer holidays. He has a level of stability and confidence in who he is that I don't. He is established in his identity and doesn't appear to see anything separate from it. He is frustrated at my quest for that which is beyond identity but which out of identity arises and can't understand why I can't be satisfied with the appearance of things. It is so hard to explain that the fragmentation of my identity is at the source of this quest. I know that there is something beyond identity which the identity hides and it is that that I want to expose in order to make a difference to the race of human being....