“April Is The Cruellest Month….”

| April 17, 2011 | Comments (1)

Spring Thaw by LynnF1024

“….Mixing memory with desire…..stirring dull roots with Spring rain…”

It was minutes to 1 PM and, walking briskly along East 52d Street, I was running slightly late for my appointment. I was rushing to one of New York City’s tiny perfomance spaces to join friends in a Japan Tsunami  Cabaret benefit. A group of Japanese acquaintances were singing Brazilian-inspired jazz for us and I wanted to show my support.

Without rhyme or reason I stopped  yards  short of my destination and did what I learned to do years ago in Italy – engage in a “dolce farniente” moment. I screeched to a halt, stood motionless and  basked in the intense Spring sunlight, soaking up warm rays,  letting my mind go blank. Doing sweet nothing, as the Italians would say. I found myself thankful I was alive and grateful for the Spring that had emerged from the menacing, stormy night that had just passed. The wind had been so wild  that I actually injured myself with my umbrella; it hit my face with a painful slap as I fought to keep it open and over my head.

It was good to stand motionless in the hot sun, forgetting who I was or where I was going. Without realizing it, a broad smile had spread across my face. Pulling me out of my reverie, I heard a voice, close by, saying to me, “You look happy! You seem to be having a good day!” I opened my eyes and realized I was standing next to a young man who also seemed to be having a dolce farniente moment. We chatted as strangers sometime do if the mood and the moment are right and he told me he was a businessman who had dropped his worldly concerns and had just opened an orphanage in the mountains of rural Vietnam. He said he was leaving in a few days to start construction on the buildings which included a school.

We spoke about our mutual love of Southeast Asia. I told him it was good to hear about such selfless efforts after the tragic American war that had caused millions of Indochinese  deaths.  Then I realized I was  late for my cabaret and rushed off, wishing him good luck.  The things that can happen in April, I thought.

Japanese give jazz a unique twist. After they perform, each singer bows to the audience. I  love the way Japanese introduce bowing into just about everything they do. Last winter when our jet landed at Tokyo airport, the ground crew bowed to the plane as it taxied up to the passenger pod.

Back from the cabaret,  I reached my door just as the phone was ringing. The call was from a  Burmese friend in South Africa. We had not seen each other or spoken in more than 30 years. He had found my contact information through an article I had written.  As we chatted, I forgot my New York Spring fever and found myself back in his dusty Upper Burma  village. I had visited Hlaing there when I was working in Rangoon back in the early 80s. Getting out into the countryside was a welcome break from boisterous Rangoon. On sleepy, oven-hot  afternoons, the only sound was the squeak of oxcart wheels and nobody in the village had ever tasted chocolate.

Over the next half-hour we caught up with each other’s lives. He had managed with my encouragement to leave Burma via a United Nations volunteer job and ended up in Ghana where he had married a local woman and had fathered  two children. Later he moved to a town near Pretoria, South Africa where he was still working. He was calling me from that place and seemed happy there. I could hear the sound of laughter as we spoke and he said it was his wife and children playing in the garden.

In Burma we had a great mutual friend, a medical doctor, who had opened a clinic in the same village. It was through Dr. Tony that I met many of the  villagers and heard stories from farmers and their families about a way of life that was fast disappearing in old rural Burma. I remember being invited to a Buddhist ordination of young novice  monks; we rode to the simple village temple in an ox cart and when we returned to Dr. Tony’s house, the villagers presented  me with an elegant  bamboo and mahogany lounge chair they had made.  Today it sits in my study and is perfect for reading and dozing off.

As our conversation meandered to a close, I wondered why Hlaing had not mentioned Dr. Tony. Surely his news should have been on the top of our catch-up list. I knew that Burmese had their own way of providing information, but as  I waited for news of our mutual friend I also realized that  Southeast Asians  are reluctant to reveal bad news. Finally, I couldn’t contain my curiosity which was growing into worry. I asked Hlaing what had happened to Dr. Tony. There was a long silence, then in a shakey voice Hlaing told me that Dr. Tony had been murdered by robbers who had broken into his house in Pretoria. Dr. Tony had also managed to leave Burma and after advanced medical study in the UK, had  found a good job in South Africa. He was healing people and  building a good life for himself.

We said goodbye and  I went to the backyard and began some  Sunday gardening. Last week we cleared the  brittle winter brush and noticed that perrenials were sprouting.  Spring was here and with it April, the cruellest month of the year.

(Verse excerpts from T.S. Eliot’s  “The Wasteland”)

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  1. Petra says:

    Dear Sam, I was just about to rush headlong into yet another crazy busy day when your blog entry made me sit up, take a deep breath and turn to take in our newly growing lawn glistening in the ever-so hazy morning sun. Thank you for this unexpected dolce far niente moment.

    How sad, then, to read about your old friend’s cruel death. Perhaps that’s why you met that young businessman who opened an orphanage in Vietnam – just to remind us that hope indeed springs eternal.

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