24 of them that is. My goal was 25. So here goes nothing….
What does the British identity mean to me?
As a born-and-bred Yank, what can I say that would make any impact? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve loved that quirky little island since I was in jumpers and pig-tails. It started out as nothing more than a childhood crush on Robin Hood and the cozy romanticism of a mythologized past. In my “tween years”, my love of the Prince of Thieves morphed into a deep attachment to the English Catholic martyrs, especially St. Edmund Campion, “Diamond of England”, and St. Margaret Ward, “Pearl of Tyburn”. A Catholic homeschool girl using Seton Home Study Curriculum, I loved reading about their courage and panache in my school books and dreamt of the day when I would go across the pond to follow in their footsteps on pilgrimage.
Another source of fascination for me was The American Revolution, in which I could not help but have some sympathies for the redcoats and loyalists who fought for king and country, no matter how often they were disparaged in history texts. One character who captured my imagination in a particularly vibrant way was Major John Pitcairn, the British officer in command when the first shots of the war were fired at Lexington Green.
And wonder of wonders, he happened to be a Scot. My revolutionary studies helped me to better appreciate the cohesive unity that existed among the English, the Scots, the Welsh, and to some extent, even the Irish during this period. The overarching identity they all ascribed to was Britishness.
The Scottish Independence Movement became a hovering presence over the whole question of Britishness just I entered my teen years and began to expand my horizons by studying British history and culture as a whole and making some British friends by way of World Wide Web, snail mail parcel swapping, and international phone calls that drained the life blood out of my allowance. But I still felt it was worth it, and enjoyed every minute of it.
Inevitably, I became drawn into discussions involving the many “what-ifs” of Scottish independence, especially when the Scottish Independence Referendum was announced in early 2012. In America, I found it was often viewed with glassy-eyed euphoria, associating it with our own independence movement over two centuries ago. In Britain, there was concern on the part of my contacts. My own instinct left me with a funny feeling in my gut. I knew that the whole debate was not so much about whether or not Scotland would become independent, but whether or not Britain would remain united and the British identity would survive.
I had something of an idea in my cranium already, nurtured by years of researching and personal interpretation, but I wanted to find out more about the essence of the identity from those who lived in Britain themselves and still considered themselves a part of what sometimes appears to be a dying breed. So I made it my business to ask them through online interviews, now, at a dark hour for the British Union, perhaps even the final hour.
At the moment, the Scottish Nationalists are doing quite well for themselves in their push for independence. They have successfully convinced almost half of the Scottish people that their British identity is better done without, and that they should trek out on their own. The issues of economics, defense, healthcare, the environment, and industry have all been debated back and forth, with the ultimate conclusion being that Scotland will be a much weaker and more insular should she choose to break away from The United Kingdom. But many seem to prefer weakness to strength, all for the sake of independence.
It is obvious there is some sort of magic at work. I’m not talking about the pixie dust kind, but the workings of people’s minds. There is something about independence that is capturing the Scottish imagination. While the Unionist opposition tries to debate strictly on concrete subject matters, they are largely failing to grasp the power of the spiritual in this struggle. But I wonder…what is the magic in the British identity that captured my own imagination so many years ago? Is it not worth bringing to the fore at this moment?
I don’t know how many people are going read this, if any. I don’t know if it will change the hearts of minds of those who may stumble across it, or just be scoffed at by those that are grounded in hatred of what I have grown to love. But love, I believe, is always more powerful than hate. I can only pray their will be some open hearts and minds left, and that my words and the words of the British people in the following pages will bear testimony to an idea and ideal that has a magic all its own. If nothing less, it can stand as a testimony to bearers of an old and venerable standard.
So what does Britain mean to me, to me in my heart? So many things it could break my heart. More than anything the people, eccentric, stubborn, often thoroughly impossible to understand, defending the dark humor of Monty Python and a tangled constitution that was never written. And their voices, so distinct, so imperturbable, rattling on with an odd little lilting rhythm, about travel and food and gardens and “the way things are in this country”, saying “do take care of yourself”, and “we’re polishing our scarlet tunics for another go on you Yanks someday”. Their quiet courage, keen wit, belief in themselves, and oftentimes deep faith endeared them to me.
What else do I love, that I have dreamed about, in some romantic dream? Rain, fog, tea, muffins, bagpipes, tartan, knit sweaters, wet green grass, dry dark humor, old buildings, crooked roads, big cities, small villages, stiff upper lips, soldiers in scarlet, a queen with her crown, the Union Jack, Celtic languages, folk ballads and carols with poetry so simple and tunes so haunting they could pierce the soul, and yes, Robin Hood and King Arthur and all the saints and sinners and ghosts and goblins woven into the mythology over a people trying to define themselves over thousands of years of history.
But there is MORE than that. There is something here, something those who I have interviewed understand. Britain is an idea and ideal, a representation of community and common purpose and the deepest sort of love.
Yes, this is Britain for me, simple yet complex, wonderfully indescribable, always in the process of changing and growing while holding fast to that which is most important. God save her. Our Lady of Britannia save her.
PEARL OF TYBURN, September 18, 2014