It took me a moment or two to absorb the importance of what I was listening to and witnessing, as Jo Berry and Pat Magee told the story of their experiences leading up to the time they first met.
In 1984, the day of the Brighton bombing, Jo had to wait about 10 hours before being told that her father had died in the hotel bombing, subsequently to discover that it had been Pat McGee from the IRA who had planted the bomb that had killed her father.
Against this harrowing back story, here we all were, at the College of Mediators conference, on the 16th of June 2018, watching and listening to Jo and Pat, sitting side-by-side, describing their reasons for agreeing to meet each other after the bombing and what they discovered about themselves and each other, during their first and subsequent meetings.
One could hear a pin drop in the room as I could only imagine what I might have felt, in Jo’s shoes and, indeed, in Pat’s shoes, in the time leading up to their first meeting. What courage !
Jo described her motive as the need to see Pat as a human being and not just as the man who had killed her father. She needed to understand his motivation. As she described it; ‘ my need became his need’. Jo’s need for explanation and understanding echoed Pat’s need to be understood and to explain his motivation. Although, as Pat described it, his motivation at first was to explain his political reasons.
Jo described the moment, towards the end of their meeting, when Pat uttered the words to her; ‘ I am sorry I killed your Dad’ as the moment, Pat acknowledged her father as a human being and how important this was for her.
As Pat sat before us, next to Jo, whose father he had killed, he explained that he still finds it difficult to get used to this fact, the fact that he and Jo still meet.
As their first meeting approached, Pat recalls how he felt, ‘ stirred by the enormity of the fact I was going to meet someone whose father I had killed’ and worried a little about what might happen in a ‘ charged (emotional) moment’ and about the possibility of ‘letting myself down’.
Pat began by first trying to explain the political justification, at the time, to help Jo understand the political context but, as they talked, not conscious of time passing, Pat described how he began to develop a picture of Jo’s father, as Jo listened intently to Pat.
Pat admitted that being with Jo in their first meeting was the first time someone had really listened to him, allowing him to open, allowing Jo’s empathy to ‘disarm’ him, causing Pat to think about the ‘cost of the struggle’ (political struggle), moving away from his self-justifying political narrative.
Jo described how, to begin with, having agreed to meet Pat, she faced accusations of betraying her father’s memory.
Jo explained that she had met Pat to ‘change herself’ not to try and change Pat, and to discover and access her ‘humanity’, to empower herself. She needed to understand Pat’s experience, his story, the roots of the violent struggle that had been part of his life.
For Pat, a key transformative moment happened as he sat talking to Jo aware of her intense listening, aware that ; ‘I (he) was looking at a fine person, who was listening to me, perceiving that what I considered as fine must have come in part from her father, and I had killed him. That changed me.’
At this point in the conference, Pat expressed his wonderment that he and Jo still meet and Jo’s preparedness to meet with him, and the fact that ‘she trusts me’.
Returning to their reasons for wanting to meet, Jo described her low esteem, at the time, and how she had felt a driving need for re empowerment, a need to ‘get back in touch with myself’. She wanted to learn how to resist giving her power away to events and other people and build her internal resources.
Jo explained her belief that to get stronger she had take a risk and by taking a risk, grow stronger.
Pat’s journey, as he described it, was from rational explanation and justification to emotional self understanding. At first, his drive was mainly political, to do something, to move things forward, by trying to help Jo understand his perspective, ‘without considering how the meeting might impact on me’. His was not the empathic approach but rather one based in rationale.
Pat described feeling completely drained, shattered, at the end of the first meeting with Jo. He described how, having let his guard down, he felt vulnerable, drained, exhausted by the experience.
It was clear to me, as I watched and listened to Pat and Jo, that their ‘journey of reconciliation’ together had created a relationship build on trust as Jo described Pat ; ‘He has always listened to me. I trust him to be real, honest, open, to listen to me and respect me’.
Jo describe the importance of her taking and continuing to take responsibility for her emotions. She emphasised that she had never asked Pat to change, for her. This way their friendship had been allowed to grow and evolve.
Pat and Jo have created the environment for each other, an environment which has allowed mutual understanding to grow, an understanding and friendship built on trust and respect.
Jo explained that no one had said at any time ‘ what you are feeling is understandable’ which would have helped her enormously. Instead, her journey has been one of self- discovery, self-work and development, a growth in self-awareness, challenging her internal barriers and limiting beliefs and managing her emotions so that she did not project these on to Pat in the form of blame and judgement.
At the end everyone stood, as they applauded the courage of these two remarkable people who had shared their wonderful stories with us, stories of courage and overcoming, stories of emotional development and transformation.
A truly inspiring story and one we can all learn so much from.