Michael Longley, Irish poet, survivor of the Troubles, and soothsayer wrote this poem as the whiff of a ceasefire blew across Belfast in the 1990s.
I thought of it this morning as I woke to thoughts of our election day.
“All Of These People”
Who was it who suggested that the opposite of war
Is not so much peace as civilisation?
Our assassinated Catholic greengrocer who died
At Christmas in the arms of our Methodist minister,
And our ice-cream man whose continuing requiem
Is the twenty-one flavors children have by heart.
Our cobbler mends shoes for everybody; our butcher
Blends into his best sausages leeks, garlic, honey;
Our corner shop sells everything from bread to kindling.
Who can bring peace to people who are not civilized?
All of these people, alive or dead, are civilized.
Though we have never been a truly peaceful nation, I believe we are a civilized one. Civilization creates space for diverse opinions, and respectful dialogue. It is at the heart of every human interaction. It is the only way a society works.
Maybe tomorrow we can remember that and ask our elected officials to do the same. Enough with the obstructionism and party politics. Enough with the gridlock and corporate interests taking precedence over those of everyday people. Get to work creating a government that works for us instead of leading us into unworkable situations, at home and abroad.
I heard this poem recently while listening to an excellent interview with the poet Michael Longley on On Being. I highly recommend it!