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I believe in angels from a Swedish experience

"This being Christmastime, it is fitting to share with the Sri Lankan Guardian readers some of the great ABBA hits thanks to the You Tube technology. Sri Lanka is sadly in need of song and smile and we have got to believe in angels for there is something good in everything and everybody. "

by Victor Karunairajan

(December 24, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) Thirty years ago an eight-year old Swedish child invited this writer to her home in Viskafors, South Sweden to meet her parents over dinner. It was her parents’ gesture to express their gratitude for taking care of her and a number of other children in her age group along with other volunteers in their summer camps. Such camps during the long school holidays are popular in Sweden and children of all ages look forward to them. The most popular are the mid-summer camps during which time Sweden enjoys her reputation as the Land of the Midnight Sun.

In some camps hundreds of young people congregate in open areas with tents and it’s during such, alcohol could be a major problem and the volunteers have to be on the alert. In the minds of the youth, the dominating feeling, to let them go free could mean their directions could sometimes turn out to be unpleasant. One night a group of teenagers mistook this writer for a Lapplander but were extremely pleasant and cordial and invited him to their tent for Vodka and sausages. They certainly did not mind him turning down that offer but made coffee for him on their camp cooker. It was a gracious gesture. They were surprised a Lapp said “no” to Vodka.

Naturally, it was strange for a Sri Lankan to be involved in such a voluntary activity in Sweden. This was in 1975 long before people in Scandinavia became familiar with those of our part of the world involved in social welfare and. community activities. This was reverse volunteerism from the East to the West. The acceptance from the children was enthusiastic and absolute.

The summer camps are also the means by which the community extends its services to ensure children are not left alone at home when parents are out at work and there are many single-parent families too who need help. Sweden counts as foremost in social welfare obligations to the community. Organizations like the IOGT, International Organization of Good Templars founded in the 19th century in Sweden for the propagation of total alcohol abstinence, and the various Swedish political parties have their own summer programmes for children and other social welfare activities.

The Swedish summer camps are held in farmlands and forests using farm facilities mostly and or tents for accommodation. Usually four or five volunteers take care of about 25 to 30 children and where this writer helped the children were of the 8 to 12 age group. There would be walks, group dynamics and games related to the environment and the understanding of it and sing-songs. Children loved the early morning walks in particular. They also get impacted by highly committed social welfare volunteers who ensure the children are well cared for, well fed and their safety and good health ensured at all times.

In the evenings the children would cuddle together for short stories and they particularly loved myths and fables on nature, animals and birds. They adored stories about elephants a great deal and this writer had a whole fund of them including those about the top favourite of Sri Lankan children, Lakshmi from the Dehiwela Zoological Gardens. Wonder whether this gentle pachyderm that has given rides to thousands of children including this writer’s, is still alive! In the 1970s she was already sixty years old and was the leader of the performing pack that entertained visitors to the zoological gardens, a pride of Sri Lanka, every evening.
When this writer arrived at the child’s home for the evening, she was keen to relate to him her interests in music. It was the time Sweden’s top group ABBA was making headlines and she had posters of them on her walls. They were Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad , A-B-B-A and they had come together as a group in 1970.

Four years later they won the Eurovision Contest in Brighton, United Kingdom with their number “Waterloo” and were acclaimed as a group that would stay on the top in the pop music world for many years. And sure they did and some of their numbers have become classics.

(Waterloo - Watch Video)

At this particular time, that is in 1975, they had made another top hit, “Fernando” and this writer heard it for the first time in that young lady’s home. Any child or youth would be stirred into reality from any ineptness or waywardness by this lyric especially its powerful chorus, “If I have to do the same again, I would my friend Fernando. There was something in the air that night, the stars were bright Fernando. They were shining there for you and me . . . .” Sure as straw is golden, it became one of this writer’s favourites and remains forever green for him.

(Fernando - Watch Video)

He would hum even now that if he has to do the same again, he would indeed in the fields he pursues especially as a journalist with a passion he enjoys serving his community. The Swedish summer camps made a massive impact on him and some of the relationships that emerged from them remain fresh and beautiful with those children from the summer camps who now have their own children. His short story based on an environmental issue is titled “Agnetha” one of the children from the summer camps.

The ABBA piece that really stole his heart was, “I have a dream” with its inspirationally stirring chorus, “I believe in angels . . . . .,” which is akin to a spiritually uplifting gospel hymn. ABBA has immortalized this number but many great singers have sung it with great effect as well. When children join in the singing of “I have a dream” the song reaches perfection in purity especially when they sing the chorus: “I believe in angels, something good in everything I believe.”

(I have a dream - Watch Video)

Did not Christ say: “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven?”According to the Gospel of St Mathew 19:14, Jesus said, “Let the children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” This is good to remember at this time when we commemorate the birth of the promised saviour and renew our faith by enabling that spirit to be reborn in our hearts especially in the very humble circumstances he was born two thousand years ago in Bethlehem.

Christmas today sadly tends to be whatever that may have happened in the Inn among people assembled there but not in the manger hidden behind it where Mary had to use a cattle feeder as His cradle and was visited on the one hand by the lowliest of beings but on the other, angels from heaven and even three strange men from the East. He was also placed in the highly perturbing situation of having to seek refuge from the fears turned to wrath of a king who was determined to kill every male child born around that time. He was told of a prophesy that a baby would be born who would become king and this had upset him.

The uniqueness of His birth is that He came among us as a mortal and in His life showed what is possible for every mortal being to seek and achieve immortality as God has desired of every one of us. He fought the designs of the devil as a mortal and He went through His agonies as a mortal even commanding Satan not to tempt him but to get behind him. He did not succumb to the temptation to dazzle the mortals with his heavenly powers to mark Him as different from them. This is love so amazing! This is love sanctified on the cross. This is admiration of such a love that made the Roman centurion who was guarding Jesus on the cross to say: “Truly this Man was the Son of God.’

This writer particularly likes the rendering of this piece by an Irish pop group, Westlife which was formed in 1998, twenty four years after ABBA. Westlife gave great effect to this song by presenting it in the background of street children, drug addicts and the homeless to help them fight their social wretchedness and inspire them with hope that they could come clean. It is a song that is capable of stirring people out of destitution and their miseries.

(Westlife sings I have a dream )

Nearly all the ABBA numbers are lively and enchanting and the meanings and messages they convey are so rich and poignant that they are very much like what Kannathasan contributed to Tamil pop culture. It is a pity ABBA broke up eventually and the four have gone their separate ways. Two of Kannathasan’s brilliant achievements were Arthamulla Inthu Matham (Meaningful Hinduism) and Yesu Kaviam (Portrait of Christ).

This being Christmastime, it is fitting to share with the Sri Lankan Guardian readers some of the great ABBA hits thanks to the You Tube technology. Sri Lanka is sadly in need of song and smile and we have got to believe in angels for there is something good in everything and everybody. The following pieces are good for this celebratory season and at a time we yearn for peace and harmony not only among all Sri Lankans but peoples and nations as well:

Thank you for the music

Dancing Queen

ABBA Muppet Parody

Hasta Manana
- Sri Lanka Guardian

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