Saturday, 29 July 2017

Family. . .

This blogpost is a tribute to Afamasaga Leuli Robert Ieriko
Whatever dreams we have, they're for the family. . . 

What about I need?
Curtis says it's the best thing for the group
What about what's best for me?
He feels that The Dreams can cross over

My parents and I received news last night that you had left this life.
You had been sick for a while, probably for a long time, but you never let on that things were much more dire than they actually were.  I write this because I probably won't get an opportunity to say anything in tribute publicly in your final church services.  That right is reserved for your immediate family; cousins I've grown up with my whole life and only just recently reconnected with intermittently during your illness in hospital.

What about how I feel?  
When we're famous I'll write great things for you 
Effie do it for me
What about me? What about me?

As I'm writing this, I'm thinking about the things I did for you growing up, particularly with music.
As soon as I realised that I had a natural ability for playing the piano, I stopped playing sports altogether and focused on playing for church.  It would only take me 9 months of hard work to move from Grade 1 to Grade 4, debuting at White Sunday.  Now that you're gone, I think about how I feel.  As a child, I always felt good about playing for church, and playing while you were conducting from an early age was part of the beginning of my musicianship training.  You didn't explain anything to me.  I had to learn by observing.  You taught me by growling me.  At your worst you would embarrass and ridicule me.  At your best you would smile and nod before resuming the task at hand.

It's more than you, it's more than me
No matter what we are, we are a family
The dream is for all of us, this one can be real
And you can't stop us now because of how you feel

The more I learned about music, it wouldn't be long before I not only started to develop my singing voice, but also my own voice to speak up when I felt things weren't right.  You taught me this, but I'm not sure that you intentionally meant to teach me.  God works in mysterious ways - using his children to teach us lessons about ourselves, to learn about service and obedience, and also about justice.  I wonder, what your dream was for all of us?  Not only the musicians, but also just everybody who was connected to you?  Nothing would stop the events that were about to unfold, but the biggest lesson upon reflection, and in light of your passing, it's more than you, it's more than me. . . 

It's more than you, it is more than me
Whatever dreams we have they're for the family
We're not alone anymore now there are others there
And that's dream's big enough for all of us to share 

The last time I saw you in hospital, it was a spontaneous visit.  I had dinner with Phillip and we had a good conversation about lots of stuff that we usually talk about when we catch up.  The thing about catching up with good friends is that the range of topics can vary and go as deep or as light as you want.  Eating good food that night was a bonus too, going to support Rita who was excited to see us there, as her other close friends weren't able to make it - so it felt like we were a representative contingent, together with Torise who was with a friend at a separate table.  When we arrived at the hospital, everyone was gathered in the family room.  Aunty Palagi wanted to make sure that we were all able to come and see you.  I reassured her that no, your immediate family took priority, I just wanted to come and see how everyone was, with no expectation to come and see you.  When we were able to get in the room to see you, we sang a hymn, a prayer was said and then we started to file out and say goodbye to you.

So don't think you're going, you're not going anywhere
You're staying and taking your share
And if you get afraid again, I'll be there

You lay there on your back with your eyes open.  You had been laughing at Robert during the prayer as he kept saying things that made you laugh.  When he asked you to go to Samoa with him, you vigorously shook your head and we all laughed.  You moved your legs around, and I could sense your frustration.  I knew you wanted to get up and just walk out of there.  It was time to leave, the nursing staff needed to attend to your medical needs, so we all filed out one by one, saying goodbye.  If I had known that it would be my last time seeing you alive, I would have said something more profound.
I said "Hey! It's Manu" while rubbing your right arm.  You sat bolt upright and turned towards me and gasped.  I think I was more surprised by your reaction to me than everyone in the room, I just hid it better.  I wasn't sure if you were surprised that I had come to visit you and didn't expect to see me there.  In that instant, I had a flashback to a few nights earlier while I was asleep at home, and someone had whispered my name that woke me out of my dream.  There was nobody around.  I wondered if that was Loma who had come to visit.  I felt that it was a message to come and see you. I came back to the present moment and as I looked at your face and into your eyes, I wondered if you had seen Loma when you had gone under.  I told you in Samoan, 'that's enough lying down, time to get up.'  I told you my parents were thinking about you, wished you well, that our whole church sent their love.  You visibly relaxed and lay back on the bed.

We are a family like a giant tree branching out of the sky
We are a family, we are so much more than just you and I
We are a family, like a giant tree
Growing stronger, growing wiser, we are growing free
We need you, we are a family

We may have had our differences, but I always respected the opportunities you gave me as a child that helped to form the foundation of my love for music.  I will always remember you testing me, by throwing so much music for me to sight read (you were responsible for making me good at sightreading).  I will always remember how I watched you like a hawk when you conducted and knew instinctively during rehearsals, when to start playing again to bring the choir in because I could sense you were starting to get angry and might say in Samoan 'ok, we're not singing this song now', then abruptly change songs.  Your temperamental disposition made playing for you a constant challenge, but I truly believe it would not have made me the discerning musician I am today, allowing no room for compromise when I wanted nothing but perfection from the choir.  We just had different approaches to achieve the same goal.

Even though you have physically departed, I know you have left behind a legacy for your children and grandchildren.  I've been playing this song on repeat all night,  thinking about how proud you were of your family, of where you came from, and where you wanted your family to head into the future.  Thanks Uncle Saga for your life and being hard on me.  I value that as I move ahead and try to make my own mark in the world.  I am confident that you are now with our ancestors and that you are free from illness.  Do me a favour please, and if you see Loma, give him a huge hug from me.

Manuia lau malaga Saga.
We are a family, we are so much more than just you and I. . .