Tag: charity

Thank You, Amma

One week on from getting a hug and I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Amma, the famous Indian humanitarian and world-renowned hug-er, was holding court at a hotel ballroom last Monday. I have been following Amma’s work now for over a decade; her philanthropic activities, together with the mass affection with which she is greeted at every public opportunity, created a certain awe, as well as an intense curiosity. Impressive spiritual being or over-hyped New Age sort?

Prior to my hug, I recalled the amazing number of reports detailing her work from her home base in Kerala, India. I also remembered the reports of those who had come into contact with her -their sense of feeling strange, peaceful, and generally good after receiving one of her famous hugs. Amma has hugged hundreds of thousands of people; she showed no sign of letting up as she greeted the hundreds assembled to greet (and hug) her last week.

After being brief on the basics of receiving darshan and some simple instructions -”Take your shoes off / She doesn’t speak English / Follow me” -I was lead into a large ballroom full of people dressed in draping white, standing, sitting, swaying, and smiling. Old, young, brown, white, walking, disabled, scarred, spotless, men, women -differences and divisions ceased to matter. I suppose it was a perfect symbol of the universal appeal of Amma. Loud Indian music shot through the speakers, along with a video of Amma singing at a live concert. The whole thing had the feel of a Sunday morning at a gospel church, but with a hushed revery; it was celebratory and quietly joyous. There was little if any poe-faxed seriousness, and many of the people were happily sitting in silence, on chairs or on the floor. Some were meditating, palms up, others were just gently smiling, staring at nothing in particular, high on their own special kind of bliss.

Having been lead into a line near the front, I was told by an assistant to kneel on the floor and move forwards accordingly. Amma, smiling and occasionally chatting with one of her swamis, (who I later learned is a former Bollywood director), hugged couples, babies, families, and individuals, placing an apple, a rose petal, and a Hershey’s kiss into every person’s palm as they left.

When it was my turn, I was struck by how physically small this big-hearted woman is. Seated on a small platform, my supplicant position was perfect for a literal, real meeting of hearts. Any initial awkwardness immediately melted away as I wrapped my arms around her waist and leaned my head on her chest. She said something in my ear a few times (“Madoola”), audibly but soothingly, as a swami uttered words I can only assume were part of the darshan. Amma held me a lot longer than I anticipated she might -there was such a long line of people waiting to see her -but I never felt rushed or anxious. Only comforted and totally accepted.

When we finally let go, we looked into each others’ eyes and beamed. I was handed a huge red apple, along with a rose petal and my silver-foiled kiss. She gently closed my palm over the gifts and nodded at me. I got up. Tears suddenly came to my eyes, and I had no idea why. Perhaps it was the occasion, the music, the outpouring of adoration by so many who’d come and waited so long, maybe having waited so long myself … to finally have that moment! Maybe it was the honest, open acceptance of Amma herself that moved me so deeply. Who knows? It was a inexplicable moment.

I held my apple for a long time, gently, letting it roll around my hand, letting Amma’s beautiful fragrance of rose petals and incense envelope me. I’ll always remember her embrace. I don’t know why, and I don’t know why I should feel so moved by this woman -but, to paraphrase Shakespeare, there are more things in the heavens than are dreamt of in philosophies, in reason, or in a world where everything requires explanations, reasoning, evidence, and rational thought. Sometimes the most meaningful experiences transcend language.

Casting A Spell

Amidst the rush of celebrity do-gooding for Haiti are a number of music recordings that benefit various organizations working in the earthquake-ravaged country. “We Are The World” was originally recorded in 1985 to help Africa, and now it’s being revived, with a new round of contemporary music stars (and produced with original helm-master Quincy Jones), all in an effort to help Haiti. The single will debut at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver next week, guaranteeing it big exposure, meaning big sales, ergo, more aid.

As expected, the effort has raised all kinds of ethical questions around the benefit and drawbacks of charity singles, and the pros and cons of the super-rich-and-famous shilling for the truly destitute and desperate. I’m not going to wade into those super-deep debating waters here, but I will say, I was excited when I came across the above report detailing former Pogue Shane MacGowan‘s assembling of some great musical luminaries to re-record the outrageously sexy Screamin’ Jay Hawkins song “I Put A Spell On You” to help Haiti. Mick Jones, Nick Cave, Chrissie Hynde, and Glen Matlock were all involved in the recording. What I like is that the entire process appears to be so organic and homespun; no one’s wearing makeup or flaunting designer gear (though, as befits the rock and roll crew, there is drink). No one’s flapping on about their sincerity, and the song isn’t nauseatingly saccharine, either -it’s not a specially-composed tune for the occasion, but an old chestnut that is a long, true favourite among music lovers of all stripes. All proceeds from the single are benefiting Concern Worldwide, a Dublin-based charity that has a long history of working in Haiti.

Update: This rocks. Take a listen.

Somehow, I suspect, were Ms. Simone alive, she’d want to be in the same room as Cave, MacGowan, et al. Really, could you blame her?

Hallelujah

Tonight the Help for Haiti Now concert took over every major North American network. This tune was a huge favourite -a moving, tender, insightful moment full of soul and musicality. I never thought I’d enjoy JT singing a favourite Leonard Cohen song but… I was wrong. He should just sit and damn well sing more often. Even my mother (the opera fan) sat, enraptured, and enthused on the simple beauty of Justin’s voice. Accompanying him was Matt Morris, a multi-talented singer/songwriter who’s worked with fellow Mouseketeers Timberlake and Christina Aguilera in the past.

The gorgeousness purity of “Hallelujah” was indicative of the soulful, stripped-down nature of all the performances. Gospel sounds were heard throughout the night, with Stevie Wonder, John Legend, and Jennifer Hudson all making a noise most joyous; Hudson’s rendition of “Let It Be” was another highlight for me. Madonna took the two-decade-old “Like A Prayer” out of retirement and let fly; the rousing gospel chorus that carries the song to its conclusion was hugely uplifting and moving. Even Madge had to move around.

Overall, Hope For Haiti Now was full of great sounds and some genuinely moving moments. Anderson Cooper’s reports, featuring overwhelmed survivors (mainly children), could’ve turned maudlin and saccharine, but miraculously, stuck with being gently hopeful, while maintaining the appropriate hum of urgency. It was a lot better than the sentimental pap I was half-expecting/dreading. Well-done, all-around.

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