Saji Cumaraswamy was an amazing lady. She was the first girl to attend Trinity College but that's the least of her distinctions. I got to know her about 6-7 years ago. She used to comment on articles I wrote to the Daily News. Email was the medium. She was around 80 years then. She was one of my most insightful critics. Whenever she pointed error or critiqued positions I had taken she was utterly civilized. She was kind and gentle even when her objections were harsh. I loved her dearly and I will always cherish her beautiful ways and especially the way she smiled and said everything she was unable to say the last time I saw her. I told her 'I've never come across anyone so at peace with who they are, where they have been and where they believe they are going.' She smiled again. I kissed her and left. Two days later she passed away. This is something that was published on June 4, 2011 in the Daily News. I post this by way of tribute to a beautiful woman.
Several people have emailed me over the past week or so about my title-choice. Some have noticed that a series of them began with ‘Blessed are….’. One of my most faithful readers who happens to be the sharpest critique, a lovely lady over 80 years of age whom I love very much, emailed me a few days ago:
‘I notice that your recent articles in the Morning Inspection are titled 'Blessed are...( which would be an imitation of the Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus). He had no copyright to the words, naturally, but I'm intrigued that you actually use the phrase. Selwyn Hughes is my favorite Christian author (CS Lewis is a close second). Many Christians think that the Beatitudes are a New Testament version of the Mosaic Ten Commandments. SH thinks differently. He says the Beatitudes should really be called the be-attitudes, in contrast to the do-attitudes. They should really be thought of as the 'beautiful attitudes'.
Extremely stimulating, I found. I often visit the Beatitudes or ‘Be-attitudes’, reflect on them and find them inspiring. They do not in any way contradict the be-attitudes contained in what to me is the incomparable called the Buddha-Vachana or ‘Word of our Budunwahanse’, when one takes ‘God’ as metaphorand/or a cultural or faith-related explanatory or framing devise. I am not belittling the notion or the faith, let me hasten to add. I am perhaps too poor in word use to write in a way that guarantees no offense is taken.
The reason I used those words in this particular series of articles has little to do with religious faith or philosophical predilection. I used them to refer to those aspect pertaining to the process which ended in May 2009 whereby this island and all those resident in it were decisively liberated from the fears and threats associated with terrorism. I used those words, moreover because those who vilify that incredible effort to save close to 300,000 people held hostage by the most ruthless set of people to walk this earth in remembered history are ignorant about the things I commented on or else take great pains to trivialize and even footnote the heroism and humanity embedded therein.
My friend’s observation opened a new window and therefore brought new light to these as well as other more enduring questions about being and becoming. Ways of ‘being’ do involve ‘doing’ of course. Those who are meek, those who mourn, those who hunger for justice, those who are merciful, those who are clean of heart, those who make peace and those who suffer, for example, are seen to ‘be’ in these ways not on account of assertion, but the way they conduct themselves and how these qualities become manifest in thought, word and deed. It is not in the disavowal or the aversion, the desisting in accordance with commandment, but the conscious decisions to do this and not that, to make choices, take positions and act accordingly that one earns the descriptive ‘blessed’. I am not a student of the Bible so I shall not venture into the philosophical underpinnings of these contentions. Common sense tells me that the commandments and beatitudes complement one another. The former are of the no-no type and the latter of the yes-yes, if you will.
In that series I was focusing on certain qualities which stood out during a difficult and tragic time in our history. Mercy was exercised and whether or not this earned mercy for the merciful in the matter of transgressions indulged in is not important; what is crucial, I believe, is to ‘be’ and not to ‘be on account of fascination with promised consequence’. Those who are/were clear of heart, I have noticed, get their eyes uncluttered of all kinds of garbage. They are better able to perceive the eternal verities.
Many people called themselves ‘peace-makers’ even as they buried reason and intellect while using heart-disguise instead of heart. Those who were vilified but nevertheless did the ‘had to be done thing’ have delivered peace. What they are called is only of secondary interest. If indeed there is some entity out there that passes out labels, I am sure they will not be downgraded for not letting label-want dictate action. There were those who suffered persecution and vilification to the maximum. They were not thanked for showing error and suggesting corrective. They were and still are vilified. They nevertheless won for the rest of their fellow-citizens a land, a nation, a community.
As for myself, I feel blessed to have people like my dear friend taking the trouble to read what I write and offering comment and criticism, and in the process showing me things I might have not seen otherwise.
I remember a man who embodied most of the beautiful-attitudes. Gamini Haththotuwegama, widely recognized as the Father of Street Theatre in Sri Lanka. I have seen him at the end of each performance, regardless of location or audience, going down on his knees, hands clasped in worship. The audience made him, this I concluded. We don’t acknowledge this often enough.
My friend, who will one day write down her story, deserves thanks and so too all those who read what I write, whether or not they acknowledge, agree or even notice my byline. I bow low. I am on my knees.
I murmur: ‘Blessed are those who indulge us in our humble efforts by simply reading what we write, for they make our “being” more tender, and for they encourage and edify, in their words and in their silences’.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Email: email@example.com. Twitter: malindasene.