Today is known as the winter solstice or the ‘shortest day of the year’, that with the least amount of daylight hours.
This is in contrast to the ‘longest day’ of the year, or the summer solstice which was on Thursday June 21 this year.
For us on the island of Ireland we also refer to the summer solstice as a day of reflection when we remember all those who were killed, injured or who suffered in our Troubles.
It is a day, I believe, that deserves to be better known.
I had the privilege on that day this year to spend time with some amazing people.
I met Alan McBride, whose wife and father-in-law were killed in the Shankill bombing, and Stephen Travers, who was one of the survivors of the Miami Showband massacre.
Alan had invited Stephen to Belfast to share his story at an event organised by the Wave Trauma Centre.
It was a beautiful evening as we gathered on the grass outside the Wave offices in north Belfast.
It was a moving event, introduced by Alan in his capacity as the manager of Wave in Belfast.
Tommy Sands provided some poignant and haunting songs and tunes which helped contribute to the evening’s reflection.
Stephen’s contribution was the centrepiece of the evening. He started by giving us the at times humorous background of how his musical talent led him to a place with the Miami Showband.
What I recall from Stephen Travers’s presentation is both his desire to find out the truth of the Miami Showband massacre and at the same time his freedom from bitterness
Then he described the fateful events of July 31 1975. It was difficult to listen as he shared about the massacre of his friends and brought to the fore the issue of collusion. Stirring stuff.
Yet it was his final words that really made an impression on me: “I never go to bed at night without asking for mercy for those who wounded me and murdered my friends.”
Those words stunned me then. They still stun me now.
What I recall from Stephen’s presentation is both his desire to find out the truth of the Miami Showband massacre and at the same time his freedom from bitterness.
He is what Professor John Brewer describes as a “moral beacon”.
In the darkness of the legacy of the Troubles, people like Stephen Travers and Alan McBride are indeed shining lights.
What I also recall from meeting him earlier in the day, along with my friend Rev Steve Stockman, in Fitzroy Presbyterian Church was Stephen’s lightness of being.
Part of my reason for attending that evening on the summer solstice was to hear Stephen.
I am delighted to announce that Stephen will be taking part in next year’s 4 Corners Festival on Thursday February 8, when both he and Alan McBride will share their stories of hope.
On this, the shortest day, as we near the end of a political year which has offered little by way of light and hope, I am grateful for people like Stephen Travers and Alan McBride.
The Miami Showband Massacre: A Survivor’s Search for the Truth by Stephen Travers and Neil Fetherstonhaugh is published by Hodder Headline.
This article originally appeared in The Irish News on 21 December 2017, you can find it here.