Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Auzonville oasis of peace


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Christmas is a sentimental time when the messages of its season tell of joy to the world and peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Sadly, incidents full of pain, which are not always attributable to something we did or failed to do, are an enduring part of the human condition. These incidents do not go away even at Christmas and we are left to reconcile, as best we can, the why of pain.

Christian philosophers such as CS Lewis acknowledge that the existence of tribulation in the world is a paradox and postulate that pain has a redemptive value in the journey towards finding true peace and a return to God. It was said by St Paul that "the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us" and Christmas renews the hope and prospect of such glory.

Unfortunately, here in Trinidad and Tobago, as my fellow columnist Raffique Shah so pungently put it, we are suffering through a period of boorish, divisive behavior on the part of our politicians completely at odds with the spirit of the Christmas season, when the world attempts to lay down arms and extend instead hands of friendship and prayers for peace.

Our politicians are employing new divisive implements, for example by turning the Kublalsingh protest into North versus South. In doing so, others who wish to divide us by advocating that entertainers and downtown merchants be placed into a special category of persons entitled to leniency or exemption from the application of the law assist them. Is downtown business versus Woodbrook/ Newtown/St James business superior?

I do not know what long-term redemption we may gain from this period of sufferation, but I obtain my respite from the madness in here from the brilliance of our now fully fledged November/December concert season, some of which I have tried to describe in previous columns.

Despite that brilliance, it has been difficult to feel and maintain the Christmas spirit this year because the looming early Carnival of 2013 has so visibly and loudly encroached upon Christmas 2012. Would it be sensible to have a fixed date for Carnival maybe in early March?

Happily, Christmas came for me last Sunday in Auzonville Park, Tunapuna. Last year, I had missed the Birdsong concert in its home park because when we arrived there the parking challenge defeated us then because of my then unfamiliarity with the area.

A year later, better informed and confident of the positive moral suasion Birdsong exercises over its community, we had the privilege of walking from the car and entering the park with our chairs to pick a spot to sit in front of the concert stage, unconcerned about personal safety.

As others and I have reported, Birdsong is not simply a steel orchestra. It is a music academy for youngsters. Its events begin on time and the participants enter the performing area in disciplined but cheerful lines. Its music is accomplished, combining brass and pan and, for the Christmas occasion, combining too with UWI Chorale, the batons of Richard Quarles and Jessel Murray at various times providing dedicated leadership, all under the patrolling eye of Dennis Phillip.

Andy Narrell, whom we previously dismissed with the same xenophobic glee that we dismissed calypsonians from our comrade Caribbean islands, was also part of the evening in the park and his rendition of "Rainorama" underlined again the quality of the Kitchener legacy.

Today's column is less about the music and more about being able to enjoy a public park in conditions of peace and harmony. I would have to look in Wordsworth to find appropriate lines to describe the pastoral peace of the park that evening and I have some of his words appropriate to the memory of the evening; but even Wordsworth would not suffice because that great poet never saw a flamboyant tree in bloom and there was one in the park that evening so joyful in its red bloom that a Christmas tree in the park would have been an unnecessary intrusion.

No politician created the peace of that evening in the park. It was not the result of top down dictation. Self-effacing, dedicated citizens of vision and the community within which they work created it with slender resources. From this vision and by this work many communities can be restored to peace without the unsubtle bribery of politically partisan controlled special works. The peace and productivity manifested in the park is the output of what my friend and colleague, Sunity Maharaj, correctly labels as "communal succor, supervision and protection".

Those of us who enjoyed the oasis of peace in the park took home with us (with acknowledgement to Wordsworth and Tennessee Williams) the resonance of three hours of splendour in the grass, glory in the flower and the uplifting hope of the sweet birdsong of youth.