Reading my dad’s ‘African Memoirs’ with all the (albeit embellished!) tales of his time working in Sierra Leone in the ’60s, my pride of his adventurous spirit was mixed with a sense of shame at my lack of one. It got me thinking about all of the amazing pioneers amongst my ancestors – my mum was the first female surgeon in Northern Ireland, my aunt the first woman minister, my grandparents worked to protect Jews from the Gestapo in the 1930s and my other grandfather went back to school as an adult so that he could work his way from farming in Donegal into the ministry, eventually becoming moderator of the Presbyterian church. Follow that.
All of these inspiring lives do give me courage and determination, but I wonder whether all the firsts and the frontiers have already been won. The 20th century was an extreme time, full of overt conflict, and necessarily overt heroism. Now, on the other hand, it is easy to rest on the laurels of the past, and also to hide behind the distancing power of new technologies. We can watch terrible atrocities and injustices on the other side of the world, feel outraged and then send our pitiful version of support via credit card. What about the atrocities on our door step though?
The question that really bothers me is, do we not need to be heroes as they were of old, or has 21st century life just made it too easy for us to opt out? There may be no more cut and dry frontiers, but with all of the resources and inspiration granted to us by the work of our forefathers, surely we have the chance, maybe even the obligation, to search deeper and further for new ways to be pioneers.
I know that it is not for me to mirror them, but to live out my own story, however unremarkable that may seem.