looking back at this week i all of a sudden remember how years ago when i first worked in an international context (with refugees in germany) i was trying to find the correct english translation for the german word ‘Grenze‘. today i know that the word i needed was ‘border‘. but back then i was infuriatingly confused by the choice my dictionary offered: ‘limit‘, ‘boundary‘, ‘frontier‘, ‘threshold‘, ‘edge‘, even ‘barrier‘.
so some things have become a bit clearer for me over the years – but some are much more unpleasantly messy: on monday i went to see the Tower of London’s centenary installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red‘. as i kind of guessed, i found it quite challenging: the fact that these 888,246 ceramic poppies that are flooding the tower’s moat truly like a blood-red ocean are standing each for one british soldier that died in WW1. nothing to remember the veterans that died years later of physical or emotional wounds of the same war, or the people that were killed by these 888,246 soldiers, probably civilians and certainly other countries’ soldiers. but of course: those were ‘enemies’, on the other, the wrong side of the border. or threshold? limit?
the red poppy is a deeply patriotic symbol that upholds a sense of national identity and a belief in a military (defence) system that i personally find very challenging. and yet as if to mock me: i found the sea of red poppies cloaking the old grey walls with their sun-lit rain-dripping petals incredibly beautiful and touching.
less beautiful was what i took in of the debate among tory and ukip leaders about the need for more controls of EU migration. whilst WW1 was about my great grandfather and great great uncles, this is about me. on the wrong side of the border. i sensed guilt: i shouldn’t really be here, should i? am i taking away someone’s job? am i blocking someone’s career? place to live? or slot at the GP?
i got stuck in an inner conversation about this and about how i’ve paid taxes in the this country for nearly ten years without being allowed to vote (and have my say on how this money gets spend); that i’ve set up a social enterprise that’s given some work to (british) people and companies; that i’ve volunteered for years in my local community mediation service; that as a passionate knitter i only buy wool without air miles; british wool… i got stuck like an old record playing these again and again and again.
and underneath that i recognised that all those years ago when i had that job with refugees in germany i was a staunch campaigner for people’s right to move freely and live without the limiting concept of national borders. or barriers? frontiers?