Pat Hume (In conversation with Aine Hume)
Included in recent compilation by Sr Stan titled Finding Peace (Columba Books, 2021)
Peace cannot exist alone. It is utterly and completely dependent on the existence of love. For me, peace is defined by those who hold its promise, and live it with love and hope, even when its presence feels very distant. I met many such wonderful people through my life and was sustained by John’s own unshakable vision of peace.
Peace lives in both public and private spaces. John’s work was very public and he was comfortable there, while I have always valued the quiet and private spaces.
Three things have sustained peace for me, even in the most turbulent times I have lived through. The first as I have said, is community, from my own amazing family to the many wonderful human beings I have been privileged to meet. The second is the natural world. I love to walk. I have been blessed to travel a little and I live in Derry, a beautiful city in itself and on the doorstep of Donegal, so beauty is never far away. The third has been quiet moments of prayer. In a busy life, this might have just been a few minutes of quiet in a chapel, or a few moments spoken in my own mind. I have absolutely no doubt that these have sustained my peace, and maybe saved my sanity at times!
When John’s parents got married, they had no home. They were given a room by a family who lived in a small terraced house. They had three children in that room, before being given a two-bedroom terrace. They had seven children there and John’s uncle and his wife lived in the front room. These experiences helped John develop an unshakeable faith in the generosity of others. His appreciation of human interdependence was fundamental to the way he saw the world. He also understood passionately that difference defines humanity and that embracing diversity is the cornerstone of peace.
We live in uncertain times. If John were alive, he would be applying these three tenets of peaceful change to our current situation. Faith in the generosity of others; trust as a foundation, and above all the embracing of diversity. John’s notions of kinship transcended boundaries of family, community and nation. If he were alive today, he would be telling us that our interdependence includes our fragile planet and all the species that live upon it. He would be urging us to develop a planetary kinship. One that is inclusive of all life. This will involve a deep shift in our relationship with the natural world.
Cornell West says that justice is the public face of love. All peace must be underpinned by justice. The approach of non-violence will be central to this. Our experience in Northern Ireland taught me that for those suffering injustice and hardship, violence can offer the seductive illusion of absolute righteousness. Violence blinds both perpetrators and those who fear them, to the messy complexities of human reality. The non-violent path can appearslow and painstaking by comparison. But reality itself is messy and complex and true peace can only be found if it is grounded in reality. It is a lifelong task.
In today’s world, violence takes many forms. Wherever there is inequality, injustice and suffering, there is violence. For the millions displaced by conflict and climate change, this is a daily reality. To live peacefully, we need to deepen our understanding of the myriad forms which violence can take. Increasingly, we are learning how exploitation of the natural world is in itself a profoundly violent act, with many consequences.
Our experience of the Covid-19 pandemic taught us that we are part of a single, complex, living system, in which all are profoundly interconnected. Human health and survival are reliant on the wellbeing of our planet and all the living systems which sustain it. Once again, peaceful flourishing depends on our interrelationship with the living world. Watching my grandchildren’s generation and their passionate engagement with this gives me great cause for hope.
I have seen many changes in my lifetime. Many of my children and grandchildren’s generation reject what they see as the self-protection and power of religious institutions. Having a deep religious faith, and the sustaining rituals and support of being part of a religious community, has carried me through profound challenges. However, I have learned from my own family, friends and community that this is not for everyone and religious doctrine cannot and should not be confused with an ethic of love. Peace is all about relationships and ultimately it is all about love.
Pat Hume was a former teacher who was married to John Hume for sixty years. She managed his constituency office from his election to the European Parliament in 1979 until his retirement in 2005. She was a member of the Northern Ireland Memorial Fund, the RTÉ Authority and the Spirit of Ireland Awards. She had five children. Pat Hume passed away in Derry following a short illness on 2 September 2021. Her daughter, Aine Hume is married to Kevin Abbott. She is a GP and hospice doctor in Derry. She has four children and two grandchildren.