I am reading Hitching For Hope, an amazing book by Ruairi McKiernan It's essentially about learning’s from the adversity Ireland faced during the recession of 2008.
Ruairi is an interesting person; a community activist and a giver in life. He set up a youth charity during the recession, but became burnt out by overwork. That time, like now, was a period of upheaval, uncertainty, anxiety and threat to people's livelihoods. Invited to speak at a conference, Ruairi decided to hitchhike to the conference in order to ask the drivers who stopped for messages from 'ordinary’ extraordinary people.
He started with no plan, no idea where to go, where to stay, no budget or money. He stepped into the unknown. His first lift back in 2008 was in Moycullen from man who was angry about the state of the nation but was also passionate about bees and Irish traditional music. As Ruairi continued, he realised he was travelling through a depressed, upset country that didn’t know how long these tough times would last.
Ireland right now is in a similar place; while people while are largely pulling together, they are also extremely anxious. That comes from the threat of serious illness, the unknown timeframe and the inevitable economic hardship caused by a virus that no one knew existed as recently as December.
The world's wonderful interconnectedness meant it reached Ireland just three months later. The key messages of hand washing, social distancing and social isolation/cocooning are even more important. Now is the lull before the storm and as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, what keeps us together will be challenged as it never has been before. Our connectedness is key to not just surviving this part, but surviving it well.
As Ruairi continued his hitching, he met kind, extraordinary people such as Alan Gielty: it was his first time giving someone a lift. He was a volunteer with the RNLI, who had witnessed but also prevented many drownings.
I work with the Laois Fire & Rescue Service and I see this spirit and volunteering ethic at work in my community. Kindness will see us through this adversity: the kindness of healthcare staff whose teamwork will prevail against COVID-19. As the Taoiseach said, fear is a virus too, then compassion, care and connection are the antidote.
Ruairi sought a simpler outlook where individualism was secondary to community. The Ireland he saw was a country where the positive impact of multiculturalism, inclusion and diversity could be seen and felt. He got lifts from Dutch, Germans and others who love their new home and the absence (for the most part) of the forces creating hatred and division in other parts of Europe.
In Limerick, he got a lift from community worker Jen, who shared her views on deprivation in the city, and showed the power of arts and creativity at play in her community centre, where Ruairi met volunteers and participants. In Limerick’s Moyross estate, he learned about inequality and deprivation, as well as the social stigma experienced by its residents.
The lessons of Ruairi McKiernan’s Hitching for Hope ring louder now in COVID Ireland and will be amplified in post-COVID Ireland. Each of us will be called to act and face adversity. This time we are asked to come together by staying apart. I hope the legacy of this time is not a return to a divided, atomised society but an enduring sense of being bonded and hopeful.
Life endures, we endure and our newfound values endure.
Join Dr Eddie Murphy each Monday & Thursday at 9pm on his Facebook page, where he is dispensing hope