28 September 2013

The poetry of Elnathan John

‘And life is but a drop of dew on the tip of a blade of grass,’ the Venerable Vidagama Maithree Maha Thero reminds us in the Lovedasangarava (pana nam thana aga pinibindu vanne).  The Maha Thero asks, consequently, why one delays or is slothful about engaging in meritorious activity (kumatada kusalata kammeli vanne?). 

One can be inspired, as many are, by the words of doctrines one subscribes to.  The objective of slaying the klesas or defilements persuades the reflective Buddhist to certain kinds of engagement or disengagement as the case may be. Fear of retribution on Judgment Day similarly frames decisions by those who subscribe to theistic cosmologies. We don’t do mental-checks on moral guidelines or flip pages of texts we consider sacred, but such things are ingrained in our thinking processes from our early days and become second nature.

Regardless of all this, there are moments when we see or hear or read something and we don’t have to and indeed we don’t check against moral codes. We just know it is good.  We just know it is bad, as the case may be.  We know it is a must-do thing and we do it.  Or choose not to.  Here’s a story of a conscious or unconscious acknowledgement of the physics and chemistry of dew drops and blades of grass, expressed in a thought and a thought on a dew-drop-on-grass life.

It is from my favorite Sri Lankan Nigerian (or Nigerian Sri Lankan) writer, Elnathan John soon to be President of that great country in the Continent of Africa, lover of lovely things and hair-tearer of things that push fingers to head and pull hair from root. Elnathan has a blog: www.elnathanjohn.blogspot.com.  Elnathan posts all kinds of things on Facebook and everything is marked ‘Personal’, as all honest things are one might add, ‘personal’ because it is Elnathan’s take and ‘personal’ because it makes for owning by reader beyond that self-evident truth, ‘the word belongs to reader and not writer’.  Read on.

Some days you need reminders. That this life isn't raping you alone. That when you roll over in bed with no energy or desire to get up, and think your life is all a f…… mess, there's many more like you, worse than you. One of my dear friends, one of my biggest fans and supporters, who thinks I am better than Irish Whiskey, who jaywalked, no, shot his way into my life and boosted my confidence in a way that not many people can, who gave me opportunities no sane person would give a total stranger ... My friend who by the doctors’ prediction has less than 6 months to live- His daily communication has become more and more suicidal. And everyday I have to check that he is still alive. Now he has gone off on another I-am-not-sure-I-will-wake-up-in-the-morning rant. I can't reach him. I hope he will be there in the morning.

I keep wanting him not to drink so much. Not to kill himself faster. I want to tell him death will come, why hurry it. But I dare not judge him. Who knows what the f… I would do if someone wrote a number down and told me I had that many months to live. And he keeps reaching out when he breaks down. He doesn't admit it, but I see that he is breaking down. He says 'I am dying, but you, you are going to be something.' Some days he sends pages and pages of emails. And when I am too tired to read I remind myself, it could be his last email. Our emails, they could make a whole book... I will make the Chinese tea he bought me recently from China. And hope he is there in the morning. If he is I will scold him. And wish for fewer traumatic evenings.

It is not about us in pursuit of samsara-shortening, an attachment to goal that perhaps help dissolve goal along with attachment in ways our yet un-slayed kleshas forbid us from explaining here.  It is about recognizing a drop of dew, noticing it is delicately balanced on a blade of grass.  It is about seeing dew drop in everything and blade of grass in everything to the point that what matters is not the name we give one or the other or wondering which is which. It is about letting the poetry of it all come to us and letting the ink of our knowing scatter it all so the elements can craft word after word in languages that are timeless.  

I wonder if Elnathan got a chance to scold his friend. I wish he did. I wish he gets to experience the utter joy and privilege of scolding his friend every single day in the untroubled troubling of his detached embrace that heals the world without trying, without ever wanting to.    

[Malinda Seneviratne is the Editor-in-Chief of 'The Nation' and can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com]


sajic said...

Thanks for this. Elnathan John, who was introduced to me by you, is really amazingly good. His writing stirs the heart. And your piece does him more than justice.
Thanks again.

Padraig Colman said...

How did you get to know him?

Anonymous said...

Nice one.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

Someone sent a link to an article he had written. I looked for him, found him on Facebook, wrote to him. Easy. :)