“The idea of shared humanity and the connections that we make with one another – that’s what, in fact, makes life worth living.” ~ Clint Smith.
One of the beauties of being a nurse is that you are legitimately able to ask people intimate details about their life, with impunity. For a story teller, this turns a mundane part of your day into the seeds of future tales. I never forget the time when I was working in the Emergency Room and asked a Spanish speaking patient if she had ever been hospitalized at that hospital before. She paused for a moment, then confidently told me the name of the hospital she usually went to: ‘El Pam Pring’. It took me a while to realize she was referring to ‘Palm Springs’ Hospital!
My father, a healer of souls, not bodies, also heard many a tale told in confidence. But he also loved to capture the essence of the story; a turn of phrase, a reflection of the culture. These he jotted down in one of his notebooks that was always with him. Of course, the Jamaican language is full of fascinating phrases and metaphors, so he had many opportunities. Whenever possible he would sprinkle these into his Friday morning messages, or his Sunday sermons. The sound of a Jamaican phrase spoken with my father’s unique Welsh inflected accent was always guaranteed to generate laughter. But for him it was a tribute to the place and people that he loved, a land of vibrant, jokify people. In retirement, preaching at a little chapel in a sleepy village in Wales, he would continue to sprinkle his Jamaicanisms into his sermons. His famous last words ‘and is true, you know’ have been immortalized on his headstone.
Jamaican phrases have found their way into the global language. From ‘no problem, man’ to ‘wicked!’, they are even used in ad campaigns. You hear an American voice declaring ‘choose one, and done’ and wonder if they realize who said it first. But the best part about Jamaican phrases is how quickly they evolve with the times. For Jamaicans living in the diaspora it may be impossible to keep up with the latest slang. And always the unique way of expressing things. Those who have found themselves being involuntarily returned to the land of their birth (deportees) will be described in this way: “Him get dip!” (he was deported).
When a uniquely local phrase can enter the global lexicon (Irie!), it demonstrates that the human experience is a universal one. When we take the time to get to know one another (whatever our place, race or culture of origin), we realize that although we may express ourselves differently, we have much in common. However, if we don’t take the time to ‘link up’ we may never find that common ground.
When South Africa began the process of healing a nation torn apart by the murderous forces of the apartheid regime, they chose the path of ‘Truth and Reconciliation’. They could have rounded up those responsible for the most heinous acts of repression and barbarism and subjected them to an equivalent punishment (trials and retribution). Instead, they had open hearings, where those who had committed such acts could come forward and ‘confess’ all that they had done. It allowed the families of those who were tortured and/or brutally killed to hear an acknowledgment of those crimes by the perpetrators. Sometimes all we need to begin the healing process is to hear someone acknowledge what they did.
We are living in a time where truth seems to be a luxury, where facts are distorted and reality is reshaped to fit a narrative. We listen to bare-faced lies and are not shocked, it seems to be the new normal. Many of us watch and wait, and hope that (soon, please!) we will have our own ‘truth and reconciliation’ hearings, an opportunity for the nation to heal and turn a clean page.
This weekend I am concluding a week off with an out of town trip to Atlanta. Yet another opportunity to ‘link up’ with old friends and family, to cast aside the daily routine for a chance to reminisce and laugh. It will be bittersweet, because within our alumni family we have had tragedy, reminders of how brief and fragile life is. But life is full of joy and pain, moments of beauty and moments of horror. For my bereaved friends, I know there are no words of comfort for this particular hell they are going through, no relief from this personal nightmare. And sometimes words are not necessary, supportive silence and long hugs may be the best remedy.
These week I am reminded that if life were always perfect, then perfection would be mundane. If it were not for periods of hell, how would we recognize paradise? When we achieve things without a struggle, we take them for granted, not realizing that there are those for whom daily acts of living are a struggle.
On this Friday morning, I give thanks for the ability to link up, to reach out and to connect with others. I hope you will listen to the struggles of others so you can appreciate your own life more wholeheartedly. I challenge you to live your own truth, and not accept lies and deceit as the new normal. And if you get a chance, let yourself ‘drop foot’ to some good reggae music! Have a wonderful weekend, Family!