Someone once said ‘Home is where the heart is!’. For the first 54 years of my life that home was the little seaside town of Ballybrigg in Northern Ireland – but no longer! Please let me explain.
Raised as an Ulster Presbyterian, later to become a somewhat zealous member of a Charismatic Christian sect, I always felt completely at ease with the religion-political ethos that hangs over this beautiful little piece of God’s green Earth. Even the rain and the predictable, grey skies, mixed with the nightly news of murder and spiralling atrocities didn’t shake my conviction that I was at home. I felt totally secure in the bubble of my small tribe, one that believed itself to be a little special in the eyes of the great Creator.
That is until two dramatic events changed my life forever. The sudden death of my 5 month old baby son, Ben, back in 1984, was the first seismic shift that turned my cosy inner world upside down. It launched me on my journey of freedom from the pseudo-safe belief system of my sect of choice. Nothing would be the same again, especially in the realm of religious devotion and group commitment.
The second shift in my sense of belonging was my stress burnout back in 2004, when I walked out voiceless from my place of work, an educational microcosm aka a school, for the very last time on a dull winter’s afternoon. Later, lying in my bed and weeping like a baby and doubting my sanity, I knew that another Linus blanket had been ripped from my grasping hands. I was no longer, Dylan Morrison, the Math teacher and pastoral Year Head. I was just Dylan, the broken man, drifting on the ocean of shattered dreams.
In hindsight, both these ego shattering events were the final two nails in my Northern Irish coffin. Paradoxically, a sense of psycho-spiritual claustrophobia slowly smothered me during my slow but sure recovery from my breakdown or ‘breakthrough’. I sensed that I no longer belonged and could not continue with the mask of conformity within the middle class environs of my pervading Protestant culture. Something was dysfunctional and I felt it, for the first time in my Ulster sojourn.
Of course my sudden departure from Ballybrigg, back in July 2009 still took me by surprise. Having bought a small apartment in Lincoln, England as a holiday home, on the spur of the moment, during a visit to see my son Zac, I didn’t expect that it was to become my new home and the birthplace of a new blogging and writing career. Yes, the Divine can step up the pace when it needs to. One minute we’re there and now we are here!
Last week, as I returned to Ballybrigg to attend my sister’s wedding and deal with some outstanding property matters, I was apprehensive to say the least. Yet I needn’t have been concerned. For as I drove down to Ballybrigg from Belfast Airport, I felt a deep detached sort of peace within. On the outside nothing had changed in the five years since my departure; no new development, the same triumphalist wall murals on the working class gable walls. It could easily have been June 30th 2009, when I drove out of Ballybrigg in the opposite direction for our short holiday in England.
I sensed a bubble of sorts surrounding and protecting me from the cultural memories, people and persons that threatened to knock my new psychic equilibrium for six. It just didn’t happen. My time was enjoyable in a quiet, contained sort of way, my contact with old friends and family extramely encouraging. Even my visit to my dead son’s little grave was ok. As I stared at his little moss marked, sullied gravestone I wanted to shed a tear but couldn’t. I just seemed so detached and apart from this scene of past burial and fervent prayer. A husk of memories remained, but ones without the bitter sting of bygone years. Surprising myself, I quickly jumped into my car and headed off to meet the living. The shocking truth was that my wee son Ben, no longer touched me on that barren grave-filled, Ballybrigg hillside. Both he and I had moved on.
So will I return? Yes, if I have to for social or business reasons. Will I be rushing back, hankering for the old ways, the tribal dances of the Ulster Scots and Catholic Nationalists. No. In my soul, I am now an observer of these tribes, the blood of a more distant country running through my veins. A transfusion of sorts has taken place. My life now flows from another realm, one only observable by the inner eye of spirit sight. A place where tears are wiped away and distilled into the essence of a felt transcendent joy, an all-consuming ocean of Divine Love; the place I now call Home.