27 February 2014

And skylarks will not be silenced by order or deceit

I've written about people I've known, people I've encountered, random people marked by random incident.  Some I've written about many times, not because other lives inspire less but that they have for one reason or another been 'present' more frequently.  Errol Alphonso, for example.  This was from three years ago, first published in the 'Daily News' to which newspaper I wrote a daily column titled 'The Morning Inspection' for a little over two years between 2009 and 2011. 

Errol Alphonso, my friend and benefactor, rarely calls me.  He did, recently.  He was gasping for breath and were barely audible.  He called to say ‘goodbye’.  He said ‘I don’t think I am going to make it’.  In what he believed was his last few minutes on earth, Errol called me just to tell me not to pick up the phone if I got a call from someone from the home for the elderly where he is currently a resident.

‘I don’t want you holding the can.’ 

Errol pulled through. He had got a call through to a doctor who had arrived not long after the line went dead.  I was relieved. 

Errol is the most e-savvy 70 year old I know.  A voracious browser of the internet, Errol has the knack to pick the most pertinent and best argued pieces on any particular topic.  In many instances he’s directed me to sources and information that I have found invaluable.  He knows words, Errol does.   He is a word seeker.  I sometimes feel that he has dedicated his life to vocabulary-expansion.    He’s interested not in words and meanings along, but etymologies and applications, onomatopoeia and metaphor-potential. 

He sends me words, almost every day.

He sends me words and he sends me quotes.  He’s a quote-giver. In fact, as I was writing the above paragraph I received an email from him.  A quote. 

Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you find the answer, for one may have known something many times, acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times, attempted it — and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you — for only the truth that builds up is truth for you.’

The quote is attributed to someone called Søren Kierkegaard.  Never heard of him/her.  So I checked the internet. It’s a ‘he’. Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author who lived and wrote in the early 19th Century. Wikipedia says that Kierkegaard’s philosophical work highlights the importance of personal choice and commitment.   

It’s the respect that I have for Errol’s intellect and integrity that made me read the quote and explore further.  He does that often.  If he finds some grammatical error in something I’ve written or suspects that I have not mastered some grammar rule, he would send me a link that enlightened me.  Errol’s English lessons are quite charming.  He slips them into my inbox without referring to the particular error or rule.  He doesn’t tell me why he picked that particular moment to send that particular link or message.  

Errol is a craftsman, a refiner of the crude, polisher of rough edges.  This is why I always copy my articles to him when I fire them off to the particular editor.  If they are sent early enough, Errol goes over them meticulously. There are invariably many errors. He picks them all from the comma that should be semi-colon to the awkward sentence.  If I get this done quickly enough and he happens to check email, I have no doubt he will send it back with lots of ‘corrections’.  

And it is not only grammar.  Errol makes things read better, by suggesting word addition or sentence deletion.  Thereafter, if he came across any material that he believes would help enhance my knowledge of the subject, or was capable of provoking fresh insights, he would point me to it.  

His quotes could be random pickings, but I doubt it. Errol is a teacher, and one who knows how to rap knuckles without seeming to do so. When I started writing this morning, I wanted to play with a quote that Errol sent me a few days ago.   The one I copied above is related, and could be seen as an elaboration. Both empower. Both are humbling.  And both speak to the courage of a man who overcomes the constraints of situation by keeping his mind alert and his heart young.  
I have never encountered someone with so little to call his own who gives so much. 

The quote I wanted to write about but which is an essay that has to be postponed or left unwritten, is one attributed to Khalil Gibran, ‘You can muffle the drum, and you can loosen the strings of the lyre, but who shall command the skylark not to sing?’  That was a personal note, a comment on a particular situation and a word of encouragement as well. 

I will not write that article.  It’s already been written.  Errol Alphonso cannot be asked not to sing.  He was a skylark even as he mumbled into a mobile phone what he truly believed were his last words.  Still is, I am happy and relieved to report.   

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


sajic said...

Beautiful. Is Errol Alphonso still alive, Malinda? I seem to remember you wrote a sort of eulogy for him.

Malinda Seneviratne said...

No, sadly. He empowered me so much that his going has impoverished.

Anonymous said...

Like Malinda who is a skylark in his own way....