“Be thine own palace, or the world’s thy jail.” ~ John Donne.
When I left Jamaica in the mid 70’s, I hadn’t heard the word ‘Soca’ used to describe the music we associated with those small islands of the Caribbean. It was Calypso music back then, and we mostly heard it in a 5-minute block on the radio in the morning: ‘Calypso Corner’. We knew the classics: Mighty Sparrow; Lord Kitchener. We would sing along to ‘Fya, fya, in di wya mama!” But that was about it. Calypso music in Jamaica was relegated to the north coast, to those tourist spots where white folks stayed in hotels, sipping cocktails while turning a delicate shade of lobster red.
Some years later when living in Miami I was surprised to hear the radical form of Calypso music, conscious lyrics protesting colonialism, the oppressiveness of the class system left behind by the colonial master. Just as reggae artists had exchanged love songs for protest songs, calypso had become an avenue for channeling centuries of mistreatment and injustice. But they still could poke fun at Queen E and Philip when they were ready! Remember the man in the bedroom?
But my introduction to the Soca genre was a shocker! On my first visit back to Jamaica in the 90’s (long story – it includes 4 kids, no money, and papers, but don’t talk too loud, these are dangerous times!) we went out to a nice club in uptown Kingston somewhere, and there I beheld the safest sex I have ever seen! Man wining up on woman, woman wining back on man, to a Soca beat! Dollar wine, feeling hot, hot, hot, oh my! The temperature was very hot! I had never seen such an erotic display in a public setting. Perhaps I had been a bit restricted, as a working mother with four young kids, but this was nothing like the social life of my youth! What was also fascinating was that in this Jamaican club, most of the music was Soca. Very little reggae (and I have to say that to this day reggae is always going to get my feet tapping and my body rocking). My friend explained that in Jamaica at that time, the latest trend was dancehall, and that was associated with the working classes. The night club attendees were not so low class, they did not identify with dancehall and its associated ‘wutlessness’. Interestingly enough, the reverse was true in those islands where Soca originated. There the ‘decent people’ danced to reggae. Soca was for the streets. The class system was still alive and demonstrated in clothing, music and home address.
One of the hardest human traits to overcome (as far as I have found) is that of judging others. We carry our preconceived notions around with us, and apply them like labels to others, without ever getting to know that person. And yet we wish no one to judge us! On Sunday I went to a Zumba class where the instructor started out the class by reminding us not to worry about what we looked like, don’t look at our neighbors, just keep moving! She herself was a generously portioned lady who moved with such energy I sweated in sympathy! One of the songs she played is a powerful anthem to loving yourself: ‘This is the real, this is me, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be now’. How many of us spend too many years hiding behind the person we think we are supposed to be, rather than the person we truly are? How many of us live our lives worrying about what others think about us, or what they would think about us if we…
One day when I was stopped at the traffic lights, I glanced across at a closed store and saw the strangest thing. A homeless person (I was not too sure if they were male or female) was sitting on the ground, writing in a notebook. It was so incongruous I had to look twice. And then I had to catch myself. Why shouldn’t they be writing? Whether they were writing a poem, or a list, or their disorganized delusions, did they not have the right to be creative? When I see a panhandler standing in the middle of the road smoking a cigarette, I immediately think: how dare he! Why is he spending those dollars on cigarettes! But why should I care what he chooses to do with his money? What other joys does he have?
When we live our life according to the expectations of others, we have placed ourselves in a locked cage and given away the key. Once you realize that joy comes from within, from the way you choose to see the world, then every moment is an opportunity for appreciation. Every dawn becomes a work of art, every sunset a prayer of gratitude. Once you allow people to be who they are, to learn their lessons for themselves, your own job then becomes to work on yourself alone. And that in itself may take you a lifetime!
This week we have seen Mother Nature on speed; a hurricane that revved like a sportscar and left ruin in its wake. Across the world a tsunami turned an island upside down. On the political stage we have our own tsunami that is slowly tearing this country apart, rejoicing in division; amping up hatred and bigotry. We will have to work hard to knit the wounds back together slowly, by leaving them open to be scoured out. No sutures, no bandages, we need to expose these festering wounds so that we can dig deep to scrub out the pus and pestilence that has lingered in the crevices for too long. And then we can allow the forces of unity to bring us back together.
This Friday morning I hope you can see the beauty in a moment, the wonder of our world. I hope you can allow others to live their lives without judging, and make sure you dance like no one is watching! Have a wonderful weekend, Family!