Have you ever wanted a hot drink and a cold one at the same time?
I wanted to write a rant and I wanted to express gratitude in equal measure, so much so that I held off writing, waiting to see which one would win out. Today I decided by a hair’s breadth to go with gratitude.
We had a family barbeque a few days ago. It wasn’t planned but at some point while the grill was firing up, the children were playing with the baby ducks, folks were hosing down after a swim and the music was turned on everybody suddenly shouted to the DJ, my mother (who incidentally just had her eightieth birthday) to
“Turn it up ! Turn it up !”
“What?” she said looking a little confused with everyone shouting.
“The music “, we said. “Turn it up !”
It was John Woolridge’s song Proud to Be Bermudian.
We sang loud.
We sang with gusto.
I don’t think we sang with much harmony, but we sang with spirit! Nobody even tried very hard to get me to shut up. Usually someone expresses their opinion on the quality of my singing. Most seem to agree that I should be happy to paint and not spoil the song by being so loud and off key, but they left me alone on Friday, so wrapped up was everyone in the singing. I wish I had a good photo that showed the expressions on the faces of my normally tame family. We used to be much much louder, but we are definitely more mellow these days.
I looked around . In that moment we were happy. Each of us no doubt had our own special line or phrase in that song that was ours alone. It’s in moments like these that I understand the power of the Arts. What is that place inside us that only certain songs can touch? What makes you know the artist sings for you alone? The youngest one, not quite two years old stopped to look at the spectacle of animated wildly gesticulating singers with her mouth agape. I can’t imagine how she interpreted the spectacle. I don’t know what she was thinking but this choir of twenty or so souls singing that song was enough to stop her dead in her tracks. We sang it once, then we sang it again, then we sang it a third time. Wow I didn’t know my clan was this taken by the song.` I guarantee you that if you were driving by at that moment you would have surely slowed your car to watch and listen, and being Bermudian you might have wanted to join in but you would not have been so bold.
This is a song that moves me to tears. I love it for the way the artist speaks to us, and for the good he sees in us, and for the challenge he places at our feet. I feel visible, I feel acknowledged, I feel validated each time I hear the lyrics. It has taken a long time to come to this place. There was a time when we were told to be polite to the tourist. Looking back I don’t know why because we were polite anyway. We would have extended that kindness and welcomed them anyway. I heard the message back then that I should feel grateful that tourists wanted to come and constantly threatened that if we didn’t do thus and so, they would leave. I believe that we needed then and we need now to hear that we are good, that we have the intestinal fortitude to reinvent ourselves, that no matter how beautiful the place, WE are the product and the success lies in us and in our sons and daughters .How ironic it is to feel so much better in some repects now, while simultaneously feeling the uncertainty of so many others. My philosophical take is that developmentally we are toddlers. For a very long time we were reminded of our pink sand and blue waters, like a child who is constantly reminded of how beautiful he is. We grew, the world changed and we are recognising that we must be more. I don’t know that we have ever had much faith in ourselves, perhaps we will search for it now. I know we can look back at a time when the climate was more economically prosperous, but I don’t think we were all that healthy then. All was not rosey .Economic success is a wonderful distraction, often it masks underlying ills. In any event, this lyricist has done his job. He has held a mirror up and invited us to look at ourselves, and at the quality of our lives.
There’s no denying
These are not our best days
So many things gone wrong
It seems we’ve lost our way
But for us this is not how the story ends
We’ve braved rough seas before And we’ll do it again
What a powerfully honest opening line. I don’t know if in our history we have really ‘ braved rough seas before ‘ but we certainly are in the midst of difficult seas right now. I believe that at our core we are wonderfuly human. We catch glimpses of it during hurricanes. I see it at Cup Match and on Bermuda Day when the country is happy. I have so much gratitude for the man who cared enough about us to write it and offer it to us. I chose to receive it as a wish, as a prayer, as a gift.These are difficult times for so many reasons.
I decided some years ago not to engage in conversations on religion and politics. More wars have been fought over those things than anything else. Being Bermudian, being human, means giving space for someone else to be that as well, which is a monumental challenge on this very, very, very, small piece of land. It challenges every part of me constantly. We are a little like children squashed in the back seat of a VW Bug setting off on a long hot journey. We live so close to each other that it makes us irritable. We see too much. We know too much about each others pasts and family shortcomings. These amoung other things make us overly critical of ourselves.It isn’t that I think everything in Bermuda is great. Remember I’m the one who wanted both a hot and cold drink, but today, this day, I want to say thank you. I want to acknowledge my gratitude that I wake to see the ocean, to breathe clean air, to say “G’morning and know that someone will answer me. Adapting is one of the most difficult and necessary elements of life. Whatever your religious beliefs, I challenge you to live it and not preach it, whatever your political choice, know at the end of the day we are still neighbors on this very very very small plot of earth. Whether you hail for Somerset or St George’s, we are Bermudians first, we are family though we drive each other to distraction, we are cousins though we have no desire to see each other every day, we are neighbors, so a little respect, and a little tolerance goes a long way. As Michael Jackson said,
“I’m working on the man in the mirror….”
So here’s what you can do to help me. The next time you see me and it looks like I might be losing it (you’ll know what I mean when you read my next e-news letter lol) please just remind me that for as crazy as family can drive us, we are lost without one.
Thank you John Woolridge and all who helped you realize that dream. I wonder if you know what you have given us. We are not much practiced in giving praise except when it can’t be avoided , and even then only in small doses. Never mind. Know that there is someone in Southampton who loves the mind that wrote that song.
Thanks for reminding me of how Tom Sawyerish my childhood was.
Thank you Bermuda for I am yours and you are mine !
lyrics found here for Proud to be Bermudian: