“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” ~ Nelson Mandela.
There is nothing like waking up before dawn in the cool hills of Jamaica; there is peace and quiet before the roosters start to crow, and the dogs start their chorus. Once the daylight starts to sneak up from behind the surrounding ridges you will see wisps of mist snuggling into the grooves of the hillside. And to really get your day started, an icy-cold shower is that rude awakening you need! But don’t fret, a cup of nutmeg flavored hot-chocolate (chocolate-tea) will stop your teeth from chattering.
Although I grew up in such a place, there was a spot we visited for Children’s Camp in nearby Spaulding that brings that memory back to me. The other day I realized that even more than the cold showers, I still remembered two songs we learnt that left a big impression on me. I only remember a few lines from each, but it was their message that resonated. One began very simply: “Please, thank you and sorry; magical, magical words.” And now that I think about it, I can’t even sing the other one. The message was about being careful about pointing fingers, for when you do, remember ‘there are three more pointing back at you!’
I had a living encounter with the consequences of finger pointing many years later while working in the Emergency Department of a community hospital. A worker from a local home for adults with developmental disabilities was brought in with a ‘human bite’ to her index finger. ‘A resident bit you?’ I asked, sympathetically and erroneously. No, she told me, it was a co-worker. She had pointed her finger in the woman’s face and had been warned that if she did not remove it, it was going to be bitten. So said so done. The bite was a nasty one, causing a fracture of the bone. As my father-in-law used to warn: ‘Those who won’t hear, goin’ feel!’
When fingers are pointed our way, we feel indignant. We feel the burn of injustice. We want to step onto a rooftop and declare our innocence, or at least the innocence of our intention. When our motives are questioned, we feel the need to get everyone on our side, to appeal to the court of public opinion. The other day I heard of a politician (to be honest I can’t even remember the essentials of the story) who took to the pages of a national newspaper, writing a letter to the editor to clear his name of some accusations made against him. Powerful people can get newspapers to give them an opinion page to express their strong notions on a subject. Those of us with less power and no connections must protest quietly to our friends, we don’t have that kind of clout.
I well remember at one point in my life being on the receiving end of a ‘final warning’ from my boss. No matter that I had never been given verbal, written or other warnings prior to that. In hindsight I can see that as a young nurse manager I had allowed my displeasure with what I saw as incompetence and ignorance to be read in my body language. I had not learned the art of office politics, how to nod in agreement while keeping my true thoughts to myself. My boss at the time was a perfect example of the ‘Peter Principle’ – that people will be promoted to the level of their incompetence.
When I received my written final warning, my first instinct was to stick copies of it all over the hospital. Everyone would be just as appalled as I was. Everyone would march in support of me, sign petitions saying how wrong, how unjust, how unfair. I wanted to write a letter to the Miami Herald protesting this travesty! In time I calmed down and responded unemotionally, item by item refuting each of her claims (with examples). It didn’t work, but I left of my own accord within a year.
I listened to an interview with two of the current Sesame Street creators the other day. One was in charge of the curriculum (yes, they treat their program very seriously, as the educational infotainment it has always been), and the other was the musical director. They noted how important it was to create catchy, memorable songs with a message. Their songs have had to move with the times so that they will appeal to the discriminating tastes of the pre-school crowd. It was beautiful to think of the motivation behind the show, to create a forum where inclusion, diversity, tolerance, kindness and positivity can be demonstrated along with grouchy cookie monsters and counting Draculae!
I doubt that my own grandchildren have seen a single show. Their favorite YouTube videos and on demand Caillou will probably be their lasting memories. My own childhood TV memories went on hiatus after we moved from the UK to Jamaica, as a TV was not a part of our household for the first 7 years that we lived there. In the UK I loved to watch Bill and Ben, the Flowerpot men (not to mention Little Weeeeed!). But in Jamaica we had a rich supply of songs and messages in our life, from school (The boy who says I can, will climb to the hilltop. The boy who says I can’t, will at the bottom stop) and church.
Songs can teach us lessons of simple good behavior. They can help teach children their letters and numbers. And they light up our brains in amazing ways. And don’t get me started on dancing! I am ecstatic to know that dancing (especially choreographed, complex moves requiring learning new tricks with your arms and legs like my Zumba) will delay aging, help to prevent dementia, and teach my old brain new tricks! Songs can be used to highlight injustice; protest songs were used to inform the masses long before social media came along. Songs were used by African Americans to communicate secretly among themselves as they got ready to flee on the Underground Railroad.
This Friday morning I hope you will sing out loud, heedless of the strange looks that come your way! Not all of us have perfect pitch! I hope you will use music and movement to spread justice and joy. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!