Rockin’ a Hard Place: Some lessons we can learn from Irish

I’m just back from a three-week dream vacation to Ireland.

Glory be! How I did eat well, see beautiful things and talk with good-humored folk all over that magical Emerald Isle! And since my return, I’ve begun to realize just how much our Whidbey Isle is like that Emerald Isle.

Here’s what I mean: Both are surrounded by lots of salty water and bigger, not-as-pleasant shores nearby. Both are green everywhere you look.

Both are full of friendly folk with a sense of humor who’ll talk your ear off about local history. Both are economically dependent on agriculture and, increasingly, tourists.

Both require a rain jacket frequently.

And, ironically, both are separated culturally and politically along a north-south divide. Faith and begorrah, could these islands be twins?

Pope Francis arrived in Dublin the day after I did. He drew a bigger crowd, of course, but not nearly as big as the Catholic Church had hoped for. While he waved to admirers from his Pope-mobile crawling down a Dublin street, it seemed to me that many more Dubliners were in bars and cafes drinking Guinness or coffee. “I’m done with him and his church,” a woman next to me in a bar said. “Just look all the harm that’s been done.”

I knew better than to intrude any deeper in that debate.

Ireland was wrenched apart by politics and religion for more than 300 years.

Countless people in the 20th century died in bombings and massacres because Catholics and Protestants couldn’t figure out how to live together until a peace agreement was finally reached in 1998. Since then, Ireland has handled its religious and political differences without violence, and that has given it a booming economy and has drawn tourists from all over the world.

I thought about all this the week I got back and caught up on stories in the Whidbey News-Times I had missed, especially the increasingly hostile letters to the editor regarding the Navy’s plan to quadruple the Growler jet flights at Outlying Field Coupeville.

Some Navy defenders all but called those opposing the increase traitors — unpatriotic elitists who put their self-interest above national security.

Some of those critical of the increased flights all but called the defenders war lovers who live off the Navy and don’t care if the people of Central Whidbey are forced from their homes by intolerable and unhealthy jet noise.

Reading all that made me a little sick to my stomach, so I added a smidgen of Bailey’s Irish Cream to my coffee to calm down.

It didn’t help much.

Is this whom we have become on the Rock? Angry as the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland were with each other for centuries? Does North Whidbey really distrust and detest Central and South Whidbey — and vice versa?

Are we that different culturally and politically? Are we even headed for violence because we can’t agree on how to disagree?

It’s not difficult to fear that result based on how people are talking about each other these days.

It was only when the Irish finally realized that clinging fast to unshakable positions, always believing only their side was right and never giving an inch was destroying their country that they found a way to move forward.

I hope all of us here on the Rock – from Navy brass to shop owner to military pensioner to homeowner beside the OLF wearing ear protection – heed that lesson.

Like the woman at the bar in Dublin, I’m done with all of it. Just look at all the harm that’s being done.

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