Sunday, May 28, 2017

Grace Before Meals

Someone has asked me what was the story on the radio about my having been asked to say grace before meals at my High School Reunion Dinner in Trinidad last month.  I might as well share the answer I gave him.  It won’t be long before the blessed amnesia that falls over all painful memories, and makes past events glow as through rose-tinted spectacles, takes over.
I am sitting down at table, looking forward to the Reunion Dinner.  The place is the JFK Auditorium at UWI.  I am chatting to old schoolmates.  I recall they included Gerald Kenny and Stuart Henderson.  There are judges of the Court of Appeal and Ministers of Government scattered at other tables around the auditorium.  The good and the great sit around.  My back is to the microphone and loud speakers.  I am talking during meals, always a punishable offence when we were at boarding school.  My old school friend of 45 years ago, Peter Tang, is doing the master of ceremonies thing.  I hear him announce over the loudspeakers, “Now, can we ask Don Mitchell to come up to the microphone and say grace for us?”

Justice Anthony Lucky, his wife Cintra, the Lord Abbot, Monks and dignitaries
I do not know what to do with myself.  He has not alerted me before-hand.  I am stumped.  The last time I said ‘grace before meals’ I was a callow seventeen year-old.  I have not had the time to make one up for the occasion.  It is too short a notice to do so now.
 Peter Tang, Master of Ceremonies
I stand up.  I have a couple of choices.  I can decline as gracefully as I can, indicating I am microphone-shy.  The problem is that no one will believe that excuse.
I can brazen it out and pretend to be a regular grace-sayer, and risk sounding like a tongue-tied idiot. I am not going to do that.
I decide to just so what comes naturally.  Say something, no matter how irrelevant or beside the point.  That, I knew from experience, comes easiest to me.
Don at the podium, not sure what he is going to say for 'grace'
I stride to the podium and take the microphone from Peter.  I do not have any idea what I am going to say.  The steel band is softly playing classical music in the background.  I take a deep breath and begin, “Let me thank Peter Tang for inviting me to say grace.  It has been a long time since I have said grace before meals.  We Chinese Episcopalian Buddhists have our own way of giving thanks for a meal we are about to receive.  We don’t do it in the standard way.   We are accustomed to go out into our garden before meals and look at our flowers. We smile at the beauty of the hibiscus, and meditate on the wonders of the bougainvillea.  But, I do not know the garden at this Auditorium.  So, I cannot invite you to accompany me outside to say grace.  Let me just say that for many years now my prayer has been that I might be able one last time to sit down for one night and to share a meal with my fellow “old boys” of the Abbey School, Mount St Benedict.  I am so happy that my prayers have been answered tonight.  I hope that yours will be too.”
And, with that, I put down the microphone and resume my seat.  I sit there, waves of failure-anxiety sweeping over me.
After a few silent moments, an unctuous voice comes over the loudspeaker behind my back, “And, now let us pause for the invocation . . .” I do not recall what he said after that.  The usual, I suppose.  Then, Peter pipes up over the loudspeaker, “There, Don, that is how it is done.”
A young lady comes up to me afterwards.  She tells me proudly that her radio station has broadcast the whole thing live for all Trinidad to hear.  She tells me that she has recorded my ‘grace’ on her cellphone.  She shows me a clip of it in proof.
Since then, I have tried to contact her by email to get a copy.  I thought vaguely that I might add it to my videos on the “Facebook” account my niece set up for me.  Perhaps, alongside the clip from Bill Mahr, “The Roman Catholic Church: The Bear Sterns of Paedophilia”.  She won’t respond to my requests.  More failure-anxiety.
Originally published on 6 December 2008 on my Blog titled “Corruption Free Anguilla”
but republished at the request of an old school friend.