“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” ~ Nelson Mandela.
My father-in-law was a character. He was well known in the village where he lived, for he was loud, he did not care what people thought of him, and he spoke the truth at inconvenient times. So if you had been doing something you were not supposed to you avoided him, for he would (not in a whisper) call you on it. He lived most of his adult life in a village without electricity or piped water; in a two room house. Yet he always had his own large tank, his own water supply. He never appeared to have much disposable income, yet he was the one who funded the dreams of others; he would provide the money for the one emigrating to England, or to start a business.
Despite finding money for airline tickets or boat trips, he himself never traveled far outside of Richmond Park (a village set in the cool Mocho Mountains. Yes my friends, Mocho is an actual place in Jamaica). He worked hard in his fields every day. When others were celebrating Independence Day he would be digging, planting or reaping. “This is my holiday” he would say, “This is my America.” He had learned to be grateful for what he had, not envious of others, not greedy.
He had overcome much in his life. He and his wife had lost a young baby; his wife had suffered multiple miscarriages and finally died in childbirth. A superstitious man, he ‘guarded’ himself throughout his life. Carried a bit of ‘blue’ in his pocket; tied an inch measure around his waist; visited the obeah man when he was sick. Yet he also could quote chapter and verse of the Bible when necessary. He could pepper you verbally with Jamaican bad words then turn around and remind you that he was not stubborn but determined, ‘like a Daniel’. After he suffered a stroke he insisted on being moved from his daughter’s house in Duhaney Park back to the country (there was a culvert outside her house; every vehicle which passed outside made a racket as it drove over the metal cover), and he was to recover at the home of relatives. When he was able he would walk by himself to the nearby bar. One day he did not come home. He had made his way back up to Richmond Park to his own home. A man is not to live with others, he said later, people must live with him!
One of his last wishes was for a ‘get-together’; not a reunion, he was very clear on that. He wanted a get-together of his family, but he had a stipulation. Only those who wanted to be there should come. He didn’t want any sour faces, no unwilling children, no one who found it inconvenient or stressful. On these two points he was adamant: it was not a reunion it was a get to-gather (as he would pronounce it), and he only wanted smiling faces. He got his wish.
When the stroke confined him to spending his days mostly on his front verandah he lived his philosophy by shouting out a mantra to the kids who passed his front gate on their way to and from school: “Me happy-oi!” he would shout, and they would shout it back. Just the sound of it makes you smile, turns any ill-will you could be feeling into joy. I myself met him first through letters, old-fashioned ways of communicating; him with his 8th (or possibly lower) grade education hand-writing, words spelt creatively, sentences long-winded and at times needing to be read out loud before you could get the gist. He loved me and my children (and all his children and grand-children) with a passion, whether he had met us or not. The photos we sent him were kept close by, to be shown to anyone who stopped by to visit.
I learned a lot from Maas Adrian as everyone who knew him called him. He feared no one, even though he was not a big man. He backed down from no confrontation, armed with his machete, his Bible or his mouth (any one was enough to vanquish all opponents). Most of all he was not afraid to love, even though he knew how easily those we love can disappear from our life. But there are many other characters like him in the hills of Jamaica; men and women of character, with strong spirits and moral courage. They appear to be descended from royalty, they stand with dignity, heads held high, backs straight. Their skin may be polished mahogany, or tinged with gold, whatever the shade you can see the blood lines leading all the way back to the continent, to Mother Africa, that land they have never seen. But something remains to be handed down.
Last weekend I had the great joy of ‘getting together’ with a host of people who love nothing more than an excuse to get dressed up and dance and laugh and eat. My father-in-law would have loved them at his ‘get-to-gather’, for they did nothing but smile all weekend. That same joyous spirit that he embodied kept the party going all weekend long. We danced like nobody was watching (although in the age of smart phones now everyone can watch us!) And in the process we were able to collect money to send back to the kids in Jamaica who struggle to attend school, who find it hard to buy books, or lunch, or pay for the bus.
This Friday morning I hope that you will respond when someone yells ‘Me happy-oi!’ at you. I hope you surround yourself with people who make you smile, laugh, and try something new. I hope that you find happiness to sustain you through harsher times. I hope that you are brave enough to love with abandon. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!