The Latvian song and dance festival has begun. This year the country celebrates 100 years of its first declared independence (overlooking of course its occupation by the Soviet Union after WWII).
A few days ago, we watched a participants’ parade walk out from the Freedom monument in the centre of Rīga city to the Skonto stadium. Over 40,000 singers and dancers representing each region of Latvia and Latvians from some 23 countries abroad, including from Australia. The parade lasted for over 8 hours, as group after group sang and danced their way through the city.
Since then I have one of the songs annoyingly stuck in my head!
I was pretty much brought up on Latvian folk songs. Back in the day before electronic games and iPads, my mum used to make my sister and I sing through the alphabet in Latvian songs as we drove from Canberra to Adelaide. This song was my go to “B” song because its title is “Bēdu manu lielu bēdu”. A song about sadness.
The thing is though, the song never felt sad to sing. It has a really catchy chorus of non-sensical words “Ram-tai, ram-tai ra-di-ri-di rī-di, ram-tai rī-di ral-la-lā” that pretty much calls for a jig.
When I stopped my auto brain for long enough and focussed on the words, it struck me that the song is actually not at all about sadness, but about overcoming it.
For a nation that has seen its share of sadness, it speaks to how many have kept the spirit of the nation alive despite its circumstance.
In loose translation the song goes like this:
Sadness, my big sadness, I am not going to be sad about you.
I have put my sadness under a rock and stepped over it singing.
I don’t go anywhere feeling depressed.
I go with a song to work and with conversation to my community.
If I was sad about my sadness, then bad luck would rejoice.
Better to go on singing, so that bad luck is sad instead.
If I am going to live, then I choose to live happily.
Obviously, I totally understand that there is a difference between sadness and clinical depression and even sadness in deep grief, so I am not at all suggesting that singing a song instead of getting appropriate help is the answer for that type of sadness. That type of sadness needs far more to heal.
What has struck me most about the song, its message and its melody – is that we are the ones responsible to choose.
We can choose what will fill our mind each day.
It might be an annoyingly catchy song, an uplifting podcast, a daily meditation or reading positive life-giving words. Better to fill our minds with that, than focussing on the negatives.
We can choose to put our sadness under a rock and to step over it.
This might be as simple as beginning to let go of past events and making the best of what our present holds for a better future. It might mean choosing to get professional help to get us through depression or deep grief.
We can choose to reach out to others.
Whether it be at work and in our communities or to our families, friends, and those who are like-minded or who are going through what we are going through – the support of others around us is critical in ultimately overcoming sadness.
We can choose not to allow sadness to take hold and choose to live happily instead.
If we recognise the stronghold that sadness and negativity can have in our life then we become empowered to do something about it.
Behaviour begins in our mind – where our intellect, reasoning, and intentions are contained. It is also where transformation begins. How we think, will determine how our days, years, and ultimately our lives play out. Everything begins in the mind.
Sometimes it is important to “name the source” of our sadness – so that we can reject its power over our thoughts every time those thoughts drop into our head. In the Latvian song, the source was “bad luck” and the songwriter speaks of deliberately choosing not to let “bad luck” win. If you can identify the source of your sadness it will make it far easier to recognise how much you allow it to affect you – if at all. And sometimes you might need to allow it to affect you. Sometimes, particularly in grief, it is important to remember and reflect and honour your loved one lost – but the sadness can be easier to manage if you have already anticipated when those harder moments might hit you so that you can control as best you can, how you might choose to respond.
The key then, is to replace thoughts of sadness and negativity with better thinking, to set your mind on things that are positive and that bring you joy despite your circumstance.
When the world stops turning
I wrote this piece and hours later I received devastating news that a dear friend’s husband had passed away suddenly. He was a fit, healthy man in his 40s who picked up a virus that attacked his heart and now days later he is gone. Leaving my friend Tara, their two young children Mia and Harrison, their broader family and a community bewildered, in shock, heartbroken – utterly shattered.
There just are no words that can be written to describe the pain, the heartbreak, the disbelief in moments like these. I put myself in Tara’s shoes for a moment and I am undone.
In communicating her terrible news, Tara asked for friends to post photographs of her soulmate Joe and to speak of him and the memories shared. The outpouring that continues even as I type, speaks a testament to this wonderful man. Joe loved and was loved deeply by family and friends and he touched the hearts of many more by even fleeting encounters. There are not many in this world that can do that. The shock waves of his early departure will be felt deep and far and wide.
Reading through the sentiments poured out by so many – one stood out to me. Written by Tara’s sister it contained the following poem by David Haskins:
You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of love that you shared
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday
You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or cherish that memory and let it live on
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you could do what he would want : smile, open your eyes, love and go on.
Clearly the tears and the physical pain of the loss of a loved one so suddenly, will be felt for days, weeks, months and years ahead. The sadness will likely never leave, it will remain like a scar on the hearts of all who knew and loved him forever. Yet I get the sense that because of who Joe was, his nearest and dearest will choose to go on, live on and love on for him.
But for now – in this time of overwhelming sadness – the only choice is to grieve, until the melody of a new song is found.
Vale Joe Cole.