No going back

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Sitting in a new cafe, the latest venture in a premises that nearly 13 years ago Mark and I had dinner and a party to celebrate getting married. Since then the restaurant as was has changed hands, been divided into a small bar with a separate cafe next door. Now, after the bar closed down, the owner of the cafe has moved his business next door into the bigger space.

There’s so much change taking place in the area with new shops, cafes and bars opening all the time, each moving away from the cosier independent places that made it feel like home. The layering of the stories of this building are a reminder that things are always in motion. Yet part of the frustration for many is the way that this part of town is becoming something that is not of their choosing. Developers and landlords determined to make the most of every opportunity to squeeze out profit, are giving shape to a host of businesses aimed at satisfying the affluent young couples moving in.

In life, I’m learning that change is part of the nature of things, that there are cycles of loss and new life that remain in motion in spite of a culture that gives little space to them. There are some changes that we can’t control, that we need to learn to move with. But no matter how catastrophic the event, our choices can make a difference, and, as I’ve discovered, there is a deeper, more instinctive nature to help us navigate dark times.

Yet, some changes such as those happening in my neighbourhood and in politics generally it can seem that we are entirely subject to powerful forces that while not inevitable, often render us powerless, making opposition seem futile. That’s why during the lead up to the Brexit referendum the slogan ‘Take Back Control’ was such a potent rallying cry to those who were experiencing changes they felt they had no part in shaping.

It’s easy – and in many cases, accurate – to characterise those who voted to leave as living in the past, but one man I met and respected told me that he’d voted to leave because he simply couldn’t bear the idea of the status quo any more. Similarly, those who voted to remain might be in danger of rose-tinting away the failures and inequalities of the largely economic project of the EU.

The character of our politics at the moment does little to inspire confidence that we can navigate the legal and bureaucratic process, let alone deal with the tangle of loss, unresolved grief, anger, frustration and powerlessness that was revealed in plain sight during the 2016 referendum.

From my perspective, although the life I’m living isn’t one I would have chosen, change started to happen after I acknowledged the extent of the devastation, just how stripped back things were and began working from there. How we apply this beyond the personal, I’m not sure. But we surely have reached a point where it’s ludicrous to suggest that the sphere of politics has nothing to do with our personal and emotional responses. Perhaps if we could start there we could begin to feel for a way through. We need to grasp deeper realities about life and ourselves if we are going to negotiate the changes and disruption that lie ahead. What type of people do we need to be, and how could we shape something better?