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Let’s take a moment to take a knee

‘Taking a knee’ is a phrase that didn’t have currency not too long ago. Strange, in a sense, considering that the history of the world is a lot about kneeling and being kneed. The term is not new in the United States of America, though. It was known and used long before a racist white police officer ‘kneed’ George Floyd and became the iconic gesture of protests against racism and police brutality.  

‘Taking a knee’ essentially referred to someone going down on one knee as protest when the national anthem is being played. Colin Kaepernick for example took a knee to protest the unfair treatment of Black Americans.

The phrase has acquired new meaning in the ongoing wave of protests in the USA, which by the way have been responded to with absolute brutality by police officers all over that country. People are going on their knee to allude to the murder of George Floyd. Even lawmakers are ‘taking a knee’ to express solidarity with the protestors and object to racism and police brutality. Even some police officers have taken a knee and that gesture, in addition to objection and solidarity, is also an expression of remorse.

In ‘Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,’ one of the clues to avoiding deathtraps on the pathway to the Holy Grail is the word ‘penitence.’ Indy takes a knee and thus a sharp edged disc passes over him instead of beheading him. Indy wasn’t being remorseful. He embraced the symbol of remorse, kneeling. It got him to the destination. He was clever. Not a bad destination, but let’s not forget it’s a movie and a script we are talking about. Real life is different.

In real life there are no saints. No arahats. Penitence or taking a knee on account of remorse is something that is necessary but certainly not sufficient to heal the world. Nations, communities, multilateral organizations, soldiers, rebels, officials, corporates and citizens — none are blameless. Taking a knee symbolically is something anyone can do. Taking a knee metaphorically is what is really required. It’s substance and not frill that will change things.

It’s easy to say ‘hello’ and hard to say ‘sorry.’  However it is easy to say ‘sorry’ and so much harder to adjust lives, lifestyles and engagement with people and the earth so that we don’t have to take a knee. When those in power take a knee that goes beyond the symbolic, a lot can change. Such transformations are rare. The Emperor Ashoka was an exception. Remorse cannot be demanded. Remorse on demand is also a  kneeing in a sense. It can’t be legislated. There has to be conviction and that conviction must be tested in action.

This knee-taking business took me back several years to a moment that arrived long before ‘taking a knee’ captured the attention of the world. A moment when a friend took a knee.

This friend, who has passed on, used to have a radio show. He suffered from bipolar disorder but had one of the clearest minds that I have encountered. He didn’t harm anyone. His actions were about self-exploration and constant examination of complicity.

The radio show was all in his mind. Here’s the English translation of how he described it in Sinhala.

‘I have this radio show. I don’t greet the listeners saying “Good morning Sri Lanka.” Why should I address only Sri Lankans, I thought. I decided that I wouldn’t restrict, so I say “Hello, Earth.” A few days ago, thinking about all the violence that human being have unleashed on the earth, I realized that there was something terribly wrong with my greeting. “Sorry, Earth.” That’s what I say now.’

My friend took a knee. He hadn’t kneed anyone but was demonstrating remorse on behalf of all human beings on the planet. It’s simple, come to think of it. We can’t tell the world to take a knee if we don’t take a knee ourselves.

Other articles in the series ‘In Passing…’:  [published in the ‘Daily News’]   


 Let’s start with the credits, shall we? 
The ‘We’ that ‘I’ forgot 
‘Duwapang Askey,’ screamed a legend, almost 40 years ago
Dances with daughters
Reflections on shameless writing
Is the old house still standing?
 Magic doesn’t make its way into the classifieds
Small is beautiful and is a consolation  
Distance is a product of the will
Akalanka Athukorala, at 13+ already a hurricane hunter
Did the mountain move, and if so why?
Ever been out of Colombo?
Anya Raux educated me about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
Wicky’s Story You can always go to GOAT Mountain
Let’s learn the art of embracing damage
Kandy Lake is lined with poetry
There’s never a ‘right moment’ for love
A love note to an unknown address in Los Angeles
A dusk song for Rasika Jayakody
How about creating some history?
How far away are the faraway places?
There ARE good people!
Re-placing people in the story of schooldays   
When we stop, we can begin to learn
Routine and pattern can checkmate poetry
Janani Amanda Umandi threw a b’day party for her father 
Sriyani and her serendipity shop
Forget constellations and the names of oceans
Where’s your ‘One, Galle Face’?
Maps as wrapping paper, roads as ribbons
Yasaratne, the gentle giant of Divulgane  
Katharagama and Athara Maga
Victories are made by assists
Lost and found between weaver and weave
The Dhammapada and word-intricacies
S.A. Dissanayake taught children to walk in the clouds
White is a color we forget too often 
The most beautiful road is yet to meet a cartographer

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