This River by Zoë Lawlor


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I live in a small city in the midwest of Ireland, Limerick, it wouldn’t be a city in many countries but it is here, in this small one, and it is my home.

Outside my work I’m involved in a lot of activism, in Palestine solidarity, anti-war activism, refugee and migrant support and anti-racism work here. Like everyone the pandemic has profoundly affected me and upended my life and it’s made me think a lot about connections, ties, togetherness and the things that make me feel alive.

I spend a lot of time alone but I’m also very social, and as I said, active, so being apart from friends, from comrades, from the movement work we do is a real disjuncture.

I walk a lot, I walk every day more than two hours unless it’s too wet to go out. My tolerance for rain has grown, something I never thought would happen, it rains a lot here but now the measures of the rain can determine the walk – light, drizzle, let’s do it, heavy, bucketing, let’s do it, pouring with a driving wind, can’t do it. Water has become one of the main features in my life. We’ve been in and out of lockdown at varying levels, mainly due to an incompetent government that has never cared about our health and always prioritises business, a universal experience for so many people in this plague time.

Part of our restrictions has limited our radius, limited our lives to 2km from home, to 5km from home, to our counties, to our country. It’s limited our numbers too and how many people we can meet, making our being together hard, making our railing against the people who put our marginalised communities at risk very difficult, making showing solidarity with our sisters and brothers under the boot mostly impossible. We have to navigate this as we navigate our ever decreasing and increasing circles of walking, walking, walking.

And water is the constant in it all, the river, tide in or tide out is the witness to the isolation and also to the unity. The broad majestic Shannon, the wild Atlantic, the grey, cold, refreshing, beautiful waters of Ireland, I’m lost in you, I’d be lost without you.

Zoë Lawlor
This River

When I walk I go along the river, the huge beautiful river that flows through my city and saves my sanity, even as it often claims the lives of people in despair. Without this river I would have been lost in the isolation, in the separation, but the river is my connection, to the city, to the grit and humour of it, to the people who live here, to the thousands of swans and hungry seagulls that float along it, waiting for the inevitable bread slices coming at them, they’re well fat since this all started, covid bodies are a real peril for our winged friends.

The river defines the city, it gives us something to share, to wonder at, to be proud of and sometimes to fear. I miss the sea and I go there when the county restrictions are lifted, listening to the waves is balm for my soul, a vaccine against all of this shit.

I’m thinking a lot about our connections, our togetherness, our work. We came together even in this small city for Black Lives Matter, we were outside, yes, on our river, wearing our masks, grieving for George Floyd and all the victims of racism, linking it to racialised communities here, making the ties, lifting up the connections even as we are so severed from each other. So much of our work has been put online, away from our real, visceral time together bouncing ideas, sharing the joy of being together to fight for hope, for love, for the good things, even as what we fight against is ugly and painful. Now we do it on our laptops, our social media, and we lash out the hashtags like chants at a march cos sometimes that’s all we are allowed to do right now. We are protecting each other, minding our loves by staying apart but it feels hard, it doesn’t feel right and yet, it is the right thing to do.

This year instead of our New year’s eve vigils for Palestine, we went to landmarks in our places, alone to fly the flag. We went to bridges, focused on the rivers, sent the pictures and joined together to say we’re still here for you, we haven’t gone away, what’s happening to you hasn’t gone away, your spirit, your resistance hasn’t gone away. And water is the constant in it all, the river, tide in or tide out is the witness to the isolation and also to the unity. The broad majestic Shannon, the wild Atlantic, the grey, cold, refreshing, beautiful waters of Ireland, I’m lost in you, I’d be lost without you.

That’s a lot of time in your head, in your thoughts, in your ramblings when you’re walking and walking, along the shore, always finding something new to look at on the same waters, always finding something new to photograph, in the same place, for months on end. Making plans, dreaming, wandering, imagining being together again. That’s me, these are my thoughts, this is all I’ve got for now, water on the brain.

Photograph by Donal Higgins
All audio, text and images are under copyright © Neelum Films LLC

 


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