by Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge
On April 5th Lasantha would have been fifty-one years old. Slightly given to vanity, I suspect he may not have readily admitted it in public. It was one of the many reasons why he and I were to spend his big five-oh last year with just 12 of his close friends quietly enjoying Tepanyaki at The Hilton Hotel in Colombo. He may have revelled in the turbulence of politics and plied his art with an almost frenetic energy but in his personal life he was unassuming and easily embarrassed.
[Lasantha Wickrematunge ~ April 5, 1958 – Jan 8, 2009]
He liked birthdays. They were happy moments. And Lasantha was a happy person. Child like in many ways, Lasantha loved opening presents. If there was one thing he disliked more than anything else it was exaggerated wailing and weeping. Sack cloth and ashes. Emotional excess.
In his darkest moments he would still smile. In his most trying hour he had time to listen to another’s tale. On his most burdensome day in office he would still greet a staffer with a hearty slap on the back. Days before his death he short messaged a friend. ‘life is a celebration,’ he said.
No he would not want us to wallow in sorrow. He would say instead, ‘celebrate my life.’ And by Gad! What a life. What a great body of work.
And for those of us left behind it’s the memories. Memories of a smile, a touch a shared moment of laughter. We get by due to the mercy of God, the love of family and the kindness of true friends. In one of my darkest moments I was to receive a verse from Ilika Karunaratne a true and sincere friend to both Lasantha and me. ‘Í hope it will help you the way it helped me,’ Ilika wrote in her note to me. The verse now serves as my constant companion.
“Death is nothing at all,
I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other, that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name,
speak to me in the easy way you always used to.
Put no difference into your tone,
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together:
Play, smile, think of me Pray for me.
Let my name be the household name it always was.
Let it be spoken without the shadow of a ghost in it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
What is death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of your mind because I am out of your sight?
All is well,nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.”
My family and I miss him everyday. But until we meet again on that beautiful shore, we have the memories.
Until we meet again we shall fight for freedom just like he did. Another true Friend Sriyani was to send a little prayer to me which inspired my resolve and gave me courage. It’s power compels me to reproduce it.
‘May God bless you with discomfort with easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within yourheart, ” the prayer began.
“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.”
God blessed Lasantha abundantly.
Perhaps it is through the death of this warrior and others like him, that the mark of freedom will be seared into the soul of Sri Lanka.