“Music is the message of peace, and music only brings peace.” ~ Zubin Mehta.
I don’t know when I first realized that my father could be many things to many people. On Sundays he was ‘Parson’, solemnly conducting the church service; bellowing out hymns with his strong tenor voice; quietly leading the church in prayer; then standing in the pulpit and weaving everyday stories with old time bible verses, making God relevant for simple country people.
In a country village in Jamaica, Parson takes on many roles (more so in the past, when the options were fewer). Apart from marriage counselor and giver of advice in general, he could be called on for more house calls than a doctor; he had to write more letters than a lawyer; he carried more passengers than a taxi when going up in the hills. He had a heart attack when he was in his fifties, which gave him permission at times to say ‘No, I’m sorry, I can’t. Not today’ if his body gave him a nudge and suggested he take care of self.
But if I had to choose one aspect of my father that I loved the most, it was his love of words, of word play, of having a twinkle in his eye as he teased you. Many of his lessons were serious ones, but at times the humor would seep in, given away by a hint of his dimple as he waited for you to realize he was ‘making a little joke, you see’. For there were times when his jokes were not obvious, when it took a while to see the humor and maybe laugh a little at yourself.
We are not always ready to receive our lessons in life, especially when they come from unexpected places. Often, we respect education only when we pay a big price tag for it. It is amazing what we can learn when we are open to messages from anywhere.
This week I watched a show that included the lessons learned from Sierra Leone, a West African country that successfully controlled an Ebola outbreak in one year. What they recognized early was that they were only going to beat it if they could change the behavior of everyday people, which meant changing behavior that was rooted in centuries of tradition.
They started by reaching out to the traditional healers, teaching them to recognize the signs of Ebola and referring those who had them to the hospital for care. The traditional method of caring for the dead required family members to carry out the bathing and dressing of their loved one. But in Ebola, the body carries the greatest (and most contagious) load of the virus, which of course increases the risk to the family. Rather than forbidding this practice, they provided protective equipment to be worn by the family, so they could maintain their time-honored rituals without putting themselves at risk. They trained villagers to do the education and monitoring, so that people were learning from people they already knew.
At the end of the interview, the doctor from Sierra Leone who described their success story was asked how many people had contacted him to learn from him, so that lessons could be applied to the management of COVID-19. ‘None’, he said. For centuries now Africa and its people have been treated as having little or nothing to offer, when in fact so much of history, science and culture originated there. Much of the knowledge has in fact been stolen and assigned to other (whiter) sources, such as Greece and Rome.
But the question of how to change human behavior, especially when it is long practiced behavior, is one that sociologists and psychologists study every day. Whether it is on a personal level, or a global level, what are the factors that help us to change practices of a lifetime? It took the COVID outbreak to reinforce the simple step of hand hygiene, a practice that has been encouraged ever since Semmelweis observed the connection between mothers dying in childbirth and the medical students who attended them after leaving the dissecting room without washing their hands in between. Seems simple and logical now, but obviously we had not been practicing it as religiously as we should.
On the global level we are a race of wastrels, burning through products without thought for the impact on our environment. It has taken years of consumerism and consumption before we have started to become a little more concerned about climate change and the impact of our lifestyle on changing weather patterns and rising sea level. Yet how many of us make choices to live more efficiently and less wastefully?
This week I had the opportunity to revel in an experience that brought joy and memories of childhood. A group of us went to visit the Fruit and Spice Park in the Redlands, the center of rural and agricultural Miami-Dade county. For a mere $10 you are allowed to walk the grounds and see trees of all manner (naseberry, otahiti apples, lychees, mangoes, jackfruit, and more), and you can eat all of the fruit that you find on the ground. But you can’t pick (or stone, or shake the tree) any of the fruit unless it is already on the ground. We got trapped in the Asian pavilion, as the rains came down. This was good old-fashioned rain, the type that didn’t play. The sound of the rain on the roof, the sight of water splashing in the puddles, took us back to other times of being held hostage by a torrential downpour. And of course, there were kids who ran in the rain, loving the feel of being soaked, getting wet with abandon! The tour guide came and rescued us, for the rain was not letting up, in fact it seemed to get heavier and heavier! We climbed onto the trolley, and tried to wipe off the water from the seats and avoid the drips from the roof of the vehicle. We huddled in the center of the cars, with the rain blowing in. And all that could be heard from the front to the back of the trolley (there must have been around twenty adults and children being hauled through the rain back to the gift shop, a reconstructed replica of the schoolhouse destroyed by a hurricane) was laughter. Sheer joy in the pleasure of the outdoor world, and mother nature’s moods.
This Friday morning, I hope you make sure to take yourself out into nature for the opportunities it affords you. May you find nuff fruit under the trees of life, and many nuggets of wisdom from unexpected sources. And may you have someone to share a laugh with.
Have a great weekend, Family!