There will always be a part of you that hopes the place you’ve left remains the same, its faults and virtues preserved in amber, until you’re ready to return. The idea that the lives of people you love and the identity of the city you call home could undergo seismic changes—however positive, however necessary—without you there to witness them is a freighted one, because it reminds you of an inescapable facet of emigration: that you cease to be a player in the unfolding story of home.
But there’s also an arrogance to this avenue of thought, to the assumption that there was once a time when you could process the whole complexity of your city and its people and produce an of-the-moment narrative that successfully encapsulated it all. When asked about my hometown, from my vantage 3,000 miles west of it, I describe Dublin at length—what makes it unique, why it became this way, where it’s headed—in part to disabuse myself of the nagging feeling that the emotional distance between us, my city and me, is growing by the day.
Last year, watching the rapturous scenes of celebration outside the count center in Dublin Castle as the same-sex marriage referendum passed (with flying colors), and reading the subsequent newspaper articles and tweets of admiration from around the world, I felt a tremendous swell of pride—tempered slightly, ever so slightly, by melancholy. A new chapter of Irish history was being written, the door to a better future for thousands thrown open, and as closely as I followed developments, as loudly as I voiced my support, I wasn’t there to help usher it in.
Expatriates can help to shape the next incarnation of their homeland—I believed this long before I became one and I believe it still today—but the fact remains that a city’s future, a country’s future, is in large part carved out by those who stay, those who hammer away at the monolithic, seemingly impenetrable structures of old, little by little, day after day, until they crumble. Someday soon, people like those who campaigned till their throats were hoarse for the right to marry whomever they love will score another historic victory. The government will finally run out of excuses and be forced to hold a referendum on repealing the Eighth Amendment, also known as the constitutional ban on abortion. Despite all the progress we’ve made, a woman’s right to choose still represents a Brave New World for Ireland, and many will fight tooth and nail to maintain its continuing inaccessibility.
The months between the announcement and the vote won’t be pretty, and they certainly won’t be pleasant. It will be a bitter, divisive campaign every step of the way, but in the end the referendum will pass.
It will pass because it has to, and even though I won’t be in Dublin when the final tally is called, I’ll look forward, once again, to the feeling of my city changed.
Dan Sheehan is an Irish fiction writer, journalist, and editor. His writing has appeared in the Irish Times, The Los Angeles Review of Books, TriQuarterly, Words Without Borders, Electric Literature, Literary Hub, and numerous other publications. He lives in New York, where he is currently working for LitHub and as a nonfiction editor for Guernica magazine, and has recently completed his debut novel and short story collection.
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