Saturday, December 03, 2016

Singing with just one voice

We met in the library.

Me and Elizabeth Miguel, who used to be a ballet dancer, and who still shows flashes of her former artistry in the way she stands and sits.

Me and Marcelino Oliveira, a man of immense dignity and charm who gave me a beautiful pendant he had made. 

Me and Ana Rosa, whose misfortunes were so overpowering she could not speak. But whose blank, closed in face would sometimes break into the most dazzling smiles.

Me and Adressa Sampaio, a beautiful young trans woman who looked out with defiant and wary eyes at the dangerous world she inhabits.

Me and Valéria Viera Coelho, who always insisted on helping me up the steps to the stage.

Me and José Martin who dressed like a Robin Hood bandit from the arid northeast in his magnificent cangaceiro hat.

Me and Ivan Marik who came from the United States and had fallen on intolerably hard times.

Me and Palmira Vasconcelos Xavier, who always look a bit angry, and whose alcoholism meant it was very hard for her to stop shaking, but who insisted, absolutely, on being in a photo with me, smiling broadly the way she did throughout the whole day we were performing together.

And Vera Lúcia da Silva, who prefers to be called Lúcia, a tiny white hair old lady with such elegance in her demeanour.

And Suzete, with the figure and joyful smile of an impossibly fragile child.

And Anderson, who could not read or write and who in his illness and deep suffering seemed to have lost all his other names. A big, shambling man who when he sang lit up like a beacon.

And who, when I said "The first shall be last and the last, first" knew exactly what I meant.

And so many more besides.

Not forgetting Rico Branco, the beautiful, compassionate and charismatic choir leader who somehow managed to induce all these fragile people into one voice with so beautiful a song.

And I say the names because the names matter. The names of these remarkable individuals so profoundly hurt by so callous a society who still somehow, are able to raise their voices in song.

I don't know enough about how they survive in the homeless shelter and in the streets of Rio de Janeiro. I know that when they sing they touch the wellsprings of my heart.

And I am so proud of the event we created together.

The beautiful library in which they rehearse is threatened with closure, and so is the meagre safety net which sustains them. Capitalism here in Brazil and elsewhere is at its most cruel and inhumane.


“Bless you who persecute us, too”, Queen Jesus said, “because hatred is the only thing they have.

And it doesn’t amount to much. And they will lose it in the end.

Because no matter what they say or what they do they cannot stop the change that is coming.

And one day we will all be free”.

“Freedom”, the choir sing, in spite of everything, “Freedom” with open hearts….

And freedom becomes a palpable presence with all of us here in the City Of God.

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