04 April 2020

Let’s not stop singing in the lifeboats

Even in the flood of well-meaning, ill-intended, harmless, spirit-lifting and depressing posts, sometimes a soft, pink petal makes its presence felt. This is the quote that floated up from the void. Voltaire. ‘Life is a shipwreck, but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.’

Well, this is a shipwreck unlike any in remembered history. The downside is that we have, as a species, done everything possible to wreck the ship, steering it into tumultuous waters, unforgiving storms and of course known and unknown rocks. 

This rock is one that hadn’t been marked on any of the crude maps we’ve used to guide us. What’s worse is that we wrecked the ship long before we hit this rock, but pretended that it had been and will always be ‘plain sailing.’ 

Now we are struggling in the lifeboats and we cannot pretend any more.

The upside. People. Hope. Heart. Community. Solidarity. Song. The things that sustained us through the longest and darkest nights infested with nightmares and werewolves.

My friend Sudat Pasqual wrote about a song he heard. 

‘I was in the train on my way home from work a few hours ago. As my stop was approaching, I got up to get my backpack on and was having a little difficulty with one strap with the train lurching around. I felt the bag lift and a hand help me get the strap right. I turned and thanked him. "If you don't have the pack on right, your back will hurt tomorrow", he said. I agreed and thanked him again. I noticed him get on the train a few stations before, he was with a group who I am quite certain are homeless. I am glad that social distancing never even crossed my mind when he was helping me.’

Social distancing does not mean shutting the door on solidarity and humanity. That’s the rather long title of this song. You could trim it to ‘solidarity and heart.’ That’s a song whose melody moves from one story to another, one house to another house, from village to village. Somewhere, right now, someone is collecting and parceling rations to be distributed among the needy. Somewhere, right now, someone is talking with friends about how to obtain equipment  urgently needed by medical practitioners.

Right now, from the balcony of the small apartment I have been self-isolated for almost three weeks, I can see kites. I saw them yesterday too. It’s a late evening ritual, almost. There are kites resisting the setting sun and there are kites embracing it. The kites soar like a dream that will not be pinned down. The kites, they are singing, absolutely.

There are houses whichever direction I cast my eyes. I look to the west. There’s a coconut tree flanked by kohomba and kos. I turn towards the east and there’s a mango tree blending into a bo tree. A young father takes his child in a stroller up and down the lane. There’s a young mother who can’t stop smiling and bubbles through her fears about which all she says is ‘I don’t sleep well at night.’

People in Italy played music. They sang from their balconies. People in various countries decided to cheer the health workers and everyone working hard to repair the ship. At the same time. People all over the world decided that they will meditate at a particular time. Together. That’s song. That’s singing.

There’s always music in the luxury liners. There’s singing in the lifeboats. I don’t know about luxury liners, but the music from the lifeboats —they are divine. And the melody will wrap the earth many times over long after the voices have gone silent. They will ribbon the wrecked ship and transform into material and science that will help set us afloat again.

If you want to stop the Coronavirus, here’s a remedy: don’t stop singing.

Other articles in the series 'In Passing...':  [published in the 'Daily News']

When the Welikada Prison was razed to the ground

Looking for the idyllic in dismal times  Water the gardens with the liquid magic of simple ideas, right now There's canvas and brush to paint the portraits of love We might as well arrest the house!
The 'village' in the 'city' has more heart than concrete
Vo, Italy: the village that stopped the Coronavirus
We need 'no-charge' humanity
Heroes of our times Let's start with the credits, shall we?   
The 'We' that 'I' forgot 

 'Duwapang Askey,' screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing? 

 Magic doesn't make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter 
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo? 
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky's Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let's learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There's never a 'right moment' for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody  
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b'day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop 
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where's your 'One, Galle Face'?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds