12 October 2023

Serendipity now!

['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 the 241th article in the new series that began in December 2022. Links to previous articles are given below] 

‘Serenity now’ is a phrase made popular by its use in the NBC sitcom Seinfeld. In the third episode of the ninth season Frank Costanza, following advice from an instructional tape yells out ‘serenity now’ whenever he gets angry in order to keep his blood pressure down.  Apparently Steve Koren wrote it into some of the Seinfeld episodes after hearing his own father shout ‘serenity now!’ as a rage-controlling exercise he had heard about from an instructional tape.  

Perhaps a full-lunged yell may offer some relief even if it doesn’t quell the pain felt during dental surgery, but that would be quite embarrassing. In fact it’s not even possible to murmur anything let alone ‘serenity now’ in the most subdued form possible. You just sit there and wait until the ordeal is over. For some it may not be as anxious an experience. Maybe they are masochists. Stoic. Transcendental in some way. Speaking strictly for myself, I am terrified of dentists.

Serenity now and forever involves avoiding dental appointments. That seems to have been the mantra that was never clearly thought out but was unconsciously uttered and practiced with an almost religious fervour.

Indeed, if you happen to be in the United States of America and do not have dental insurance, the very thought of a visit to a dentist could send the blood pressure up. And if you do get an excruciating toothache ‘serenity now,’ you might think, is death. Nothing less.

My resourceful sister figured out that there are options for the uninsured. There are places where one could obtain a free examination and if extraction was necessary agreement on paying in instalments. Still expensive. There’s always ‘more to be done’ and all of it costs.

Undeterred, she said, ‘there are dental schools where students attend to you under the supervision of faculty.’

And that’s how I learned about Penn Dental. That’s shorthand for the School of Dental Medicine, University of Pennsylvania which has teaching clinics ‘providing comprehensive dental care within the scope of the school’s educational programs.’

An appointment was made for a free examination. A general cleanup would cost a fraction of what the other facility would have charged. Affordable. How blessed Sri Lankans are, I thought to myself, not for the first time.  

A few days before the appointment a friend called to find out how I was doing. I’ve known him for 46 years. So I told him about the trauma related to dental hygiene.

‘Go to Penn Dental machang!’

‘My sister made an appointment.’


I told him.

‘My daughter is a student there. I’ll ask her if she can see you.’  

And so, it was all arranged. We went.

A tiny girl came out to greet us. She didn’t say ‘good morning sir.’ She said ‘Hi uncle!’ and gave me a big hug: ‘don’t worry, I will take care of you!’

And so she examined. Comprehensively. Niyasha Wijedasa was so gentle that at one point when she stopped to write down some notes (she is a student and has to consult the supervising professor at every turn) I even fell asleep.  Kind, gentle and an absolute angel. It was not a painless couple of hours, but she talked and laughed and joked and teased and in this way alleviated all anxiety. She was skilled enough to ensure that the discomfiture and pain were minimal. She knew her stuff, clearly, for her supervisors concurred with her diagnosis and approved the procedures she recommended.

So she gave me a treatment plan and asked me to return a few days later for a cleanup (to start with — apparently there’s a lot of work to be done even after that which will have to wait until I return home to Sri Lanka).

Two days later, I related the whole story to my dear friend and new found brother John Hennessy, a Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. When I came to the part about the random call from my friend and the discovery that his daughter happened to be a student at Penn Dental, he said, ‘that’s so serendipitous, and that word comes from a name used for your country.’

I hadn’t thought of it that way.  Maybe it’s so ‘Sri Lankan’ that we have got used to it. It happens so often that it doesn’t surprise us the way it did John. Maybe it is in our DNA to receive the outrageous and the magical with equanimity. It’s not that we are not enraged or delighted as the case may be, but that such extremes are never imagined to be impossible.

This must be said. Niyasha was kind to me but the passion for dentistry and the drive to correct the innumerable flaws in a patient’s mouth had nothing to do with the fact that I had known her father long before she was born.

‘I had lots of dental issues when I was a kid. They were all sorted. I think that’s why I wanted to study dentistry. I was scared to smile, I didn’t want to talk, but once my teeth were fixed, I was alright. It gave me confidence. And that’s what I want to see in my patients.’  

Most of her patients in the years to come will not be Sri Lankans, but all of them, I have no doubt, will be delighted by Niyasha’s charm, kindness and skill. It would be an unanticipated and yet delightful experience.

Serendipity. Now. That’s what Niyasha Wijedasa will offer without saying a word about it. And her patients wouldn’t have to scream or murmur under their breath or through clenched teeth, ‘serenity now.’
Other articles in this series: 

Reflections on the unimaginable 

Jackson Anthony is a book and will be read 

A village called Narberth Bookshop

Gateway drugs to A-B-C

'Irvin' and other one-word poems

Earth pieces Kerala and Sri Lanka

Obligation as bomb and ocean

In the land of insomnial poets

In and out of shadows

Over to Eve

When you don't need an invitation, it's home

When the Canadian House of Commons applauded a Nazi...

Touching the touch-me-nots

The importance of not skipping steps

No free passes to the Land of Integrity

Hector Kobbekaduwa is not a building, statue, street or stamp

Rajagala and the Parable of the Panner

Let's show love to Starbucks employees!

You've got mail?

Octavio Paz and Arthur C Clarke in the stratosphere 

Enduring solidarities 

Coco 'Quotes' Gauff!

9/11 and the calm metal instrument of Salvador Allende's voice 

What a memory-keeper foregoes 

Whitman, Neruda and things that wait in all things

Thilina Kaluthotage's eyes keep watch

Those made of love will fly

Profit: the peragamankaru of major wars

Helplessness and innocence

The parameters of entirety

In loving memory of Carrie Lee (1956-2020)

Mobsters on and off the screen

Transfixing and freeing dawns

We're here because we're here because we're here

Life signatures

Sha'Carri Richardson versus and with Sha'Carri Richardson  

A canvas for a mind-brush

Sybil Wettasinghe's shoes

Love is...

A stroll with Pragg and Arjun along a boulevard in Baku

Meditation on tree-art

Daya Sahabandu ran out of partners but must have smiled to the end

Gentle intrusions 

Sleeping well

The unleashing of inspiration

Write, for Pete's sake

Autumn Leaves Safeness

 Sapan and voices that erase borders

Problem elephants and problem humans

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

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
The allegory of the slow road