Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Respice finem (6)

I grew up in a nation at war. I was only a couple of years old when violence and death became a part of daily life in this land, so I have no memories of peaceful coexistence among people in my own country. I belong to a generation that has grown up, taking all this violence and social divisions for granted as facts of life. I no longer have any illusions about the defects that plague the western world. However, as someone who grew up with a civil war, it took me a flight out into a different way of life in a different land, to understand how the war has changed us as people; our culture and values and the extent to which we have come to accept violence in its many forms in our society and in our lives. It took me only a few months of solitude, to realize how I have been taught to undervalue ‘human life’, by a war that reached my life through newspapers and the TV in the form of a daily death toll. Yet lives alone are often an inadequate expense, in a nation struggling to buy freedom and peace by pawning its soul. As a nation, so many of us have committed our liberties, dignity, honour, pride and even our very lives in a fight to break free of the shackles in our minds that divides us.

Australia it is a young and resourceful nation; its society is one of the richest, not only in terms of natural beauty and resources or the size of its economy, but also in terms of cultural diversity. As a result of what I have seen in my own country, I was in a position to appreciate the beautiful and harmonious blend of people from many different cultures and backgrounds where I hardly experienced anything that reminded me that I belonged to a minority. Yet I also realised that it is only the idealist in me that demanded a world that was free of hatred and unjust prejudices. There will always be those who will judge me before they know me, and some of those judgements will be based on the colour of my skin, the words I use to describe God or how I accent my words. I felt sad when racial violence marred the beautiful golden beaches of Sydney in the summer of 2005, but the people on Melbourne decided that day, to give hi5’s to strangers irrespective of the colour of their skin or the accent in their speech. It reminded me something I had learnt back home, that the world is indeed an amazing place that I could never tire of, because of how even destruction and violence can inspire reconstruction and peace.

I did not get the chance to travel much during my modest student life, but I have also seen enough of the world’s landscape to know that I would never be too tired to climb a mountain, wade across a river or look down from the edge of a cliff and marvel at its beauty. There is more land and relatively less people in Australia and therefore plenty of wide spaces to roam. The vast open spaces in its landscape always appealed to me because no mater where I am, it is never too hard to track the Milky Way on a clear night, stretching from one end of the horizon to the other. There are plenty of clear nights for me to lie down on a little tuft in the middle of a park and count shooting stars to my hearts content and the ocean is never too far away for a game of tap-rugby on the beach with friends or a quiet stroll.

In the rare but memorable occasions when we drove out from the city on impulse out into the countryside and sometimes even beyond, we came across an arid landscape that seemed harsh and dull on my first glance through the windows of a car. But the desert is a sacred place and it was not until I had finished my studies that I was ready to make my pilgrimage into its heart. It was a place where I completely lost the sense of independence I had worked so hard to gain over the years, because the desert made me feel helpless like no other place had done before. It made me rely so much on all the elements of nature that mankind has grown proud enough to think we can control and made me look at a dew drop hanging at the edge of a blade of grass from a whole new perspective. It opened my mind to the mystery of ‘life’ itself and being there alone in the middle of a desert. It was a spiritual experience hhere I met God face-to-face because the desert reminded me of my inadequacy and helplessnes and the reason why I always believed in a higher power.

Here in Australia, I have not yet seen the particular hue of deep, bright and refreshing green that I had taken for granted, looking down from the slopes of Kadugannawa on my weekly train rides from Kandy to Colombo. I have not yet found the cool winds like those that blow across the Kandy Lake or the same sweetness in a juicy pineapple. Yet, the moon is a lot bigger when it shoots up from the purple horizon and the night sky seems to have more stars in it now than I had seen before. The sea breeze still brings with it, memories from a place that I could never leave and of people who live on that distant shore.

So after a reasonably fulfilling education, I am still struggling to find my place in the world. My mind is eager to explore the hidden corners of the world but my heartstrings bind me to my home; the land, its people and the sincere smiles on their faces that I have not found elsewhere. As the hand of time is about to turn over a new chapter in my life, I look forward to the rest of my life with optimism. Looking back, the certificates, awards, diplomas and degrees I have accumulated mean less, now that I have achieved them, but it is the excitement and hope that I have preserved within, that inspires me to dream and live life on impulse and faith - the way it’s meant to be lived, because I know now that it will only make sense looking back.

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