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The ship and the caravan

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

September 2, 2005

The Intercultural Center (ICC) was a hotbed of activity last season with two farewell dinners. In April, the ICC and SASA (South Asian Students Association) banquets featured speeches by outgoing seniors, and by other students and staff wishing them well. Additionally, a new canvas mural on the ICC staircase was dedicated in May.

Banquet attendees got a sneak-peek at the mural, a collaboration between students and local artist Roberto Chao, commissioned by AHORA!, Brandeis Hispanic/Latino student organization. Jasmin Salcedo and Jordan Karney (06) coordinated the project with ICC Director Suzie Talukdar. Chao, who had worked tirelessly with the students, was absent, due to family commitments.

The 12-foot square mural, titled Juntos: Ahora, maana, y siempre (Together: Now, tomorrow, and always), depicts a ship made of panels representing various cultures and the coexistence of unity with diversity. One panel shows Tibetan monks and a sand-mandala, symbolizing the minds enlightenment and the conferring of blessings. Other panels depict African and Latin-American scenes. A third represents Jewish culture, with the Star of David as a link to ancient heritage and a dove with the Hebrew word Shalom to signify peace, a hope for the future. The ships hull is the United States, the foundation of our unity. Below, twisting waves resemble the DNA that is all of us.

I attended the banquets, at which guests were asked to say a few words at the podium. I did so in my quirky way, quoting from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam:

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! The Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultns Turret in a Noose of Light.

One Moment in Annihilations Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste–
The Stars are setting and the Caravan
Starts for the Dawn of Nothing–Oh, make haste!

Its indeed a new morning for you, I said. But the caravans journey is not forever, so make haste and drink deeply from lifes well…

These events, though held for now-graduated seniors, hold relevance for us all, regardless of graduation date. We know that day is coming, but its the farthest thing from our minds this week. I was forced to wonder about it last April, and so, with those words that werent my own, tried to answer with a relevant message. Then it was the seniors turn to speak, and what happened next shook me inside:

Imagine the night when you are the outgoing senior being honored. What happens when you stand before all your friends, faced with the task of saying goodbye? Imagine youre at the podium now, trying to find the right words of love and thanks. Gazing at their reassuring faces, you recall in flashbacks the things you did together and wonder if youll ever see them again. Imagine becoming consumed by a sense of loss. Then someone watching you steps up to the podium with a box of tissues…

As one senior after another spoke to thank a friend who had helped in a crisis, or to honor a mentor, or to reminisce about orientation week, I beheld raw emotion, overwhelmingly tender and disarming as all composure broke down. What force possesses the power to so move us at the mere sight of human eyes running wet? Listening to their stammering voices, I perceived in their recollections a certain sweetness that Ive never known. I dont envy their loss, but I crave to taste that sweetness, to make their memories mine. Safe to say, the Kleenex ran out quick enough, and not from the poetry.

And so we had our banquets, and finally consecrated our mural of the Ship, ancient symbol of journeys. Noah, it is said, had to bring every kind of animal aboard his ark, and in so doing, saved the world. Diversity and unity, inseparable. On a final note we read Tennysons Crossing the Bar:

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark;

For though from out our bourne of Time and Place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Some crossings are made over our planets great expanses of water, others by caravan across vast deserts of sand. Yet the greatest journey, perhaps, is that of the mind. My friends, the seniors have weighed anchor and put to sea, and we wish them Godspeed. As a new year begins, it is our turn to set sail as we embark for a voyage on that ship of learning. Though there be storms to face, wonderful discoveries await us, yet to become the source of memories to move us to tears one night at a banquet.

To my shipmates, with much love: Fair winds to us. See you on deck.

horseradish

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