“What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined – to strengthen each other – to be at one with each other in silent unspeakable memories.” ~ George Eliot.
My four children were born in Miami. For the first part of their lives, Florida was all they knew. They went to Jamaica with their father one or two times, but too early to hold on to any meaningful memories. Once they started school, their accents were pure Floridian (pronounced ‘Floorda’), they liked to eat oranges (pronounced awrnge). For some reason I intuitively (not rationally) assumed they had inherited my memories, my experiences of living elsewhere. Which they hadn’t.
The fact that my husband had philosophical opposition to the traditional celebration of holidays like Easter, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, birthdays, meant that I either had to assert myself (which did not come naturally in the relationship) or find some quiet way to keep my traditions. Christmas I fought for. Children must have a tree, gifts, Christmas dinner etc. At Easter we celebrated with Jamaican traditions of food (bun and cheese) rather than church going and Easter eggs. For the birthdays I just ignored him. Children must have a day to feel they are special. But it was a fight.
Recently I read the post of a friend who was commenting on the quietness of the environment. Jamaica had gone into lockdown mode due to the uptick in Covid cases, and the lack of observation of pandemic protocols. So the sounds of traffic, of human sound had ceased, allowing for the gentle sounds of nature to be the only backdrop to the day. It brought back memories of ‘country’ in Jamaica, when on days like Good Friday it would seem as if everyone was on lockdown. The normal sounds of trucks and cars would be silenced, leaving room for you to think of what the day represented, the ultimate sacrifice for a cause.
I sometimes wonder what experiences my parents had in the years before they had children, and how much did they not share with us. The other week when I was strolling through memory lane, looking at my family tree, it hit me once more how young my mother was when she lost both of her parents (she was 36 when the second one died). She had already lost a brother in the war (when she was in her early twenties) and would lose a sister when she was 45. Many of us are fortunate enough to live a long life before having death come so close to us. For my mother’s generation death was not something you spent time agonizing over. They had gone through a world war, and had had to deal with the fact of sudden, brutal bombings; of men going away to war with no expectation of return. Life was not something you could take for granted.
My memories of Christian holidays are full of hymns of course, and for Good Friday in particular the hymns take on a mournful air. The thought of death could be felt through the minor keys, we were forced to picture the suffering, the pain, the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We had to act as if we did not know the surprise ending which we would celebrate two days later, no spoiler alert, we were in mourning. There is an anthem I often hum to myself around this time, ‘All in the April evening, April airs were abroad’ – it was usually performed by the choir, rather than the church as a whole, since it is quite difficult to sing with several key changes in the middle.
For me the memory is forever tied to Wales, because the lyrics go on to describe ‘the sheep with their little lambs’ going to sweet ‘dewy pastures’ which apparently reminded the writer of the ‘Lamb of God going meekly to die’, and I can hear my father’s voice singing it, surrounded by the green mountains of Wales. It makes sense that the author of the lyrics came from Ireland, a country that is very similar in landscape and weather to North West Wales, so my memory is not far from her reality.
This Good Friday morning I am thankful for the excuse to reminisce about family who have gone before me, and the traditions they left me with. My kids have their own traditions which they will pass down, along with flavors of their forefathers, hints of their roots. In this way we honor the past while acknowledging that things do not stay the same, that the mixture and blending of multiple cultures will create new and interesting memories. And on this April morning I can connect to those who are no longer joining in our road-trip sing-alongs, ‘up in the blue, blue mountains’.
Whatever the force is that allowed the human race to evolve on this beautiful planet, however you imagine the divine or sacred light that made this all possible, I hope you can continue to appreciate all of these experiences which we share with each other, and relish the diversity and variety of our lives. And I hope you have a tasty slice or two of bun and cheese to celebrate the holiday!
Have a great weekend, Family!