Greta and Lyra: under is rising

By Jill Segger
April 27, 2019

It is a truth (almost) universally acknowledged that old heads do not fit on young shoulders. The events of the past couple of weeks have shown us, however, that old eyes must be in search of young vision.

Greta Thunberg and Lyra McKee have, in their very different ways, been powerful agents of change. They have caught and expressed a spirit that was waiting for just such capture and expression. They may have caught a tide in our affairs; it is now for us to read the sea-change and ride the swell.

The horrible and untimely death of Lyra McKee has shocked all Ireland and communities beyond its shores. In a country where random shootings as well as more targetted acts of violence were once so common, the young journalist was shot ‘accidentally’ by a small dissident Republican grouping. This wickedly careless act of violence has focused a population on the futility of such action, while the wonderful prophetic voice of Fr Martin McGill, addressing a packed cathedral at McKee’s funeral, has clearly spoken for the generation who have grown up under the Good Friday agreement and are not willing to see their democracy founder on the partisan intransigence and sectarian violence  of the past. It is worth quoting the words which brought the congregation to its feet in acclamation: “I commend our political leaders for standing together in Creggan on Good Friday. I am however left with a question: ‘Why in God’s name does it take the death of a 29 year old woman with her whole life in front of her to get us to this point?” The discomfiture of some of those politicians – only standing when they could see that remaining seated would have been very bad optics indeed, was telling.

Greta Thunberg has taken the media by storm. The diminutive 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl with her extraordinary poise and excellent command of English, is an impressive and calm advocate in a frighteningly urgent situation. Asperger syndrome has gifted her with a clarity of purpose and the strength to cut through irrelevancy, diversion and hostility without losing focus. That so many have warmed to her is not only important for raising awareness of the coming climate crisis and of how little time we have to avert it, but has also put the precious qualities of those who are not neuro-typical before a worldwide audience.

The condition of being, to some extent, outsiders applies to both these remarkable young people. A gay woman and a teenager on the autistic spectrum have brought something fresh and rich with possibility to a society which, particularly in Northern Ireland, is becoming more diverse and open minded. Those who came to mourn and to celebrate the life of Lyra McKee were young, black, white, gay and straight. They were Catholic, Protestant and neither. The Extinction Rebellion movement, whose spirit seems at present embodied in Greta Thunberg, is also diverse. That spirit of youth may be the driving force, but last week, protestor Phil Kingston from Christian Climate Action spent his 83rd birthday glued to the roof of a Docklands Light Rail train.

Young people in Northern Ireland and in mainland UK have started to form what looks as though it might be a critical mass for change. They are shifting the public mood and the disquiet of politicians is clear as they sense that ‘business as usual’ is under threat and that political failure in the face of resurgent violence, democratic inertia and real existential danger will no longer meet with nothing more than impotent grumbling. Those of us who are in the middle of our lives must make common cause with the surge of hope, even if we may sometimes feel a little out of place.

“The future lies with what’s affirmed from under”, wrote Seamus Heaney. Under is rising.

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© Jill Segger is Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. You can follow her on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.co/quakerpen

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