04 June 2023

All those we’ve loved before

Kahlil Gibran once urged someone, presumably someone he loved, to ‘feed the lamp with oil and let it not dim.’ He explained, ‘so I can read with tears what your life with me has written upon your face.’ This is a verse from the poem ‘The life of love,’ in his collection, ‘A tear and a smile.’

The poem has been a companion of sorts. Lamp, flame, light and face are metaphors. They can also be taken literally. We can peer into faces, not just of those we love, and see what we’ve written on them and, if we have not, reflect on what life and others have.

In the case of total strangers it would be speculation, nothing more. Some may say it’s a waste of time but others might very well delight in imagining what or who carved worry lines or etched a line or two at the corner of the mouth. That’s just the traces on the countenance. Life marks tone of voice, the movement of eyes and so much more.

It is different with those who are familiar, but with those who have loved or have been loved, the traceability is less contaminated by speculation. We can retrace steps less erroneously.

But why? That’s a legitimate question. The simple and perhaps simplistic answer is that human beings are curious creatures. We wonder. We imagine. And we travel on magic carpets to alternative universes with exotic names such as What-If and If-Only.

We are also rational. We hike into the hills of nostalgia, allow the winds of recollection to play with heart-hair  and after sampling the many flavours of those other planetary configurations, which by the way could take hours or a few seconds, we return to the here and now. We put aside what might have been and think about what has been and perhaps what will be.

And so there’s a lamp ready to be lit and it can be brought close to the face of the beloved. It is a magic lamp; one that illuminated pathways to the long ago, and indeed the longest ago if you will, to the point of first encounter. And there we find the beloved in the infancy of companionship or wanting.

There are two directions we can take. We can start from the love of the first moment and move to the loves that came thereafter, for both individuals grow and in growing their love is transformed, in any number of directions. We can meet each and every beloved of each and every moment, exhilarating and painful, until we come to the beloved of the parting. We can trace beloved and loving backwards too, from ultimate departure to all the arrivals and departures that came before until that first unforgettable encounter.

This is perhaps the beauty of love, the multiplicity of beloveds, all having the same name, same body, roughly the same features and wavelengths. They are not cast in stone, though. Their lives are carved upon and they carve themselves on other lives. Just as the recipients of their love or those who adore them beyond belief.

We don’t do this all the time, but then there comes a day or a moment when lyrics you’ve never heard before make their way through conversations and concerns: ‘Can you wait a little longer until I come?’

So we wait, even if the beloved never arrives. Arrival makes a difference of course, but nether presence or absence could stop someone who has decided he will walk through walls, cross streets without sparing one fraction of a second to consider the traffic and enter the gardens of magical oblivion and assertion, where nothing that does not carry the name of the beloved can exist.

And all the loves that etched a song, all the tears of all the moments, they come alive, they light all the lamps of the heart, one by one, until there’s nothing left to do but fall on one’s knees and murmur the immemorial prayer of love: stay blessed beloved, always, wherever you are and with whoever you may be with. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

Reflections on waves and markings

A chorus of National Anthems

Saying what and how

'Say when'

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra

The loves of our lives

The right time, the right person

The silent equivalent of a thousand words

Crazy cousins are besties for life

Unities, free and endearing

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!"

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis

The revolution is the song

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins

The day I won a Pulitzer


Ella Deloria's silences

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable 


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan

Enlightening geometries

Let's meet at 'The Commons'

It all begins with a dot

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone

On sweeping close to one's feet

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts...

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm

Who really wrote 'Mother'?

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember

On loving, always

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday 

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart