The following is an article I wrote for the Loch a’ Tuath News when I joined as a contributor this year. I decided to call my wee space in the paper Litir Dhachaigh, which means A Letter Home. If you’re anything like me, you can’t remember the last time you received a letter that was about something other than bills or deals at the local supermarket.
But there is something really special about a letter. Perhaps it’s the fact that you know the author took time out of their day to think about you. Or that you know that someone carefully crafted their words in order to make the sort of connection only words on paper can allow. Being asked to contribute to my local newspaper was a lovely honour and I’m glad that I can let everyone back home know that, even in the noise and clamour of the Big City, I think of them often.
Where I’m from depends on who’s asking. I’m a Scot, a Gael, an islander, a Leòdhasach. The need for a swift change of identity is not an unfamiliar experience for those of us who live away from the island. Regardless of which hat I have to wear though, there’s one title I’m always proud to use: Bacach.
This month, the Loch a Tuath News celebrates the publication of its 200th issue. This significant milestone is a mark of the thriving community that Back is – one that can sustain the pages of this paper with the hard work and dedication of its volunteers and the contributions of its diverse and adventurous population. But what of those of us who no longer live there? What does this place mean to of those of us who have gone further afield to the mainland and overseas?
Everyone will hail their own community as their favourite. I am no different. From days in Back School listening to Mr Stewart’s brilliant yarns about local history to handing over a pound coin at Gordon’s and asking for “one hundred penny sweeties, please” – it’s hard to imagine being brought up in a better place. The things that I once easily took for granted are the things I now find that I miss the most; hopping over the fence to chat to neighbours, sharing lifts, picking up messages for those who can’t, events being cancelled as a mark of respect following a loss in the district. These small acts seem so normal in the context of our little island community. But when you are transported to the red sandstone tenement flats of Glasgow, it becomes clear how hugely significant these acts are in a world where it’s so easy to become isolated from the people around you.
We live in a digital age, where constantly evolving technologies have made our world considerably smaller. The wonder of email and the miracle of Skype mean that, not only can we instantly and easily talk to people on the other side of the world; we can see them and even get to share in their experiences. We are all part of a global community now. However, the advances which have helped to bring us together are the very same advances that have started to keep us apart. We still talk to each other but so often there is a screen between us. We still see each other but we’re rarely in the same place at the same time. Our communities have moved into the intangible world of the internet and away from the people who live next door. The result is that people have become disillusioned by the sense that they don’t belong anywhere. This is why I, and many others, relish our island roots now more than ever. We are comforted by the knowledge that we can sail or fly wherever we want in the world and know we will always have a place to call home and people who will welcome us back.
I recently wrote in the Loch a Tuath News about my experience of travelling and living in Canada. One of my favourite moments from the trip came when I accepted an invitation to a cèilidh with some fellow expat islanders. On the banks of the mighty Fraser River we ate and drank, shared folklore and sang Gaelic songs. For one night, we were brought together by our sense of belonging and kindred connection to a culture and a place. I found out on that night that home can be home, even when you’re hundreds of miles away.
And it’s for this reason that the Loch a Tuath News and community publications like it are so important. They bring a little piece of home to people wherever they are. They are a reminder that we are part of something and come from somewhere. For those of us who no longer live there, it’s a great way to stay connected. And I, for one, am looking forward to what the next 200 issues have to offer!