11 April 2012

Reflections on the preeminent national embrace

Years ago and long before I realized that one had to become a parent in order to begin to understand one’s own parents, a conversation took place in Cambridge, Massachusettes about parenting and gratitude.

I was at the time a student and was staying with a Sri Lankan family. I shared a room with a 15 year old boy, the only child of a gracious couple who were university contemporaries of my parents. The boy and I were on one side of the argument, his mother our adversary. The topic was ‘caring and gratitude’ as it related to the relationship between parents and children.

‘Only we know what we have done for you, what we have sacrificed, how much we have worried and how much we love!’ she said and then lectured us on gratitude and how children ought to take care of their parents when they, the parents, are old and feeble.

We took up the position that having brought us into this world it is the responsibility of parents to take care of us. We conceded that it is nice if children take care of their aged parents but insisted that it was not a responsibility. My young friend, a decade this side of become a father, and in the full arrogance of his youthfulness and emboldened by confusion between debating skill and wisdom, wasn’t ready to concede point: ‘The main difference is that we didn’t ask to be born, but you wanted us!’

‘Ungrateful child! Do you know how much we suffered and sacrificed?’

‘That may be true, but the point is that it’s something you wanted; otherwise you could have used condoms!’

That was it. We were chased out of the house and ran out laughing.

Time has passed. My friend and I, with the passing of time and the willing (condom-less) choice of parenting, realized that debating points, as they say, are nothing more than half-truths. We discovered, each in his own way, that there exists an entire class of worries and anxieties which are conferred on us the moment we become parents. Our children are still too young for the parry and thrust that precedes the triumphant exclamation ‘Touché!’ They best us though, frequently enough.

Time passed and we each understood our parents better than we did. He’s in Australia now and I am here in Sri Lanka. And here, in Sri Lanka, we are ready to celebrate our New Year, the Aluth Avurudda, the most ‘national’ of all our festivals and for many reasons the most meaningful too. It is not about parents and children, but ‘generationality’ is certainly an important part of the traditions and customs.

This is our most eminent coming together moment. A moment when almost the entire nation at one auspicious moment decides to strike a match and light a heart; where almost an entire people, at one auspicious moment partakes of the traditional Avurudu meal, kiribath. From the loving hand of a parent. As per tradition. A time of giving and sharing, the humility and love of kneeling before elders with a sheaf of betel, a time to forgive and bless.

We are here on this earth for but a moment. A blink in fact when considering the long, long and still longer span of time, longer than even traditions. Short enough to hold back word and not hold back hand. It is not about planned parenthood, but the realities of being, of nurturing and interdependence. Not about balancing accounts and seeing beyond simplistic equations and partial truths. Not about give and take but of wholesome existence.

Colombo will be deserted during the Avurudda. That’s because the ‘village’ and the nation’s heart that inhabits Colombo goes back home and to root, renews ancient covenants, drinks deep from the wells of heritage and recovers energies necessary to live and triumph over adversity.

If there needs to be gratitude, then perhaps we should thank those who came before who in the fullness of experience and reflection crafted a culture, a host of traditions, and a universe of meaning predicated on a single thing: community.

It’s not an argument between an indignant mother and a precocious child. It is an agreement touched by the sathara brahma viharana, compassion, kindness, equanimity and the ability to rejoice in another’s joy. A national embrace, nothing less. If you want a more current word, we could call it ‘reconciliation’, but somehow that would sound poor and malnourished, like all things crafted in some other land and rudely thrust down throat.

I can’t remember the day my friend’s mother hoofed us out of that apartment, but I do remember that even in that country so far away from here, there was ‘Avurudu’. That’s who we are, deep down, I thought. I still think. 

May this Aluth Avurudda be made of reunion, sharing, festivities and a return to and appreciation of abiding commonalities!



Ramzeen Azeez said...

I just loved this and its my opinion too. Not having been asked to be born, parents should not apply emotional blackmail on their kids. If a copulating couple (condom-less!!!)produce progeny then its the kids' right to be given every possible comfort and required armor to battle the world. Of course in "developed countries" you produce them, shelter them and throw them out.Of course their welfare societies takes some responsibility too. More to the point, parents should make their own nest-eggs for their doddering days and if the kids contribute its called - no surprise here: BONUS.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

My father told me 20 years ago: 'The greatest gift you can give your parents is to help them take care of their parents'.