My husband Kurt and I were in Egypt twenty years ago in the car of a young woman who had been a participant in one of my husband’s training classes in Cairo. I will call her Lela although I cannot remember her exact name. I remember it started with “L” and was a lovely name that suited her: a young, beautiful woman, with long, wheat-colored hair and wisdom beyond her years.
She told us she was from Lebanon. Although she loved the country of her birth, she could no longer live there due to the civil war destroying it. She visited as often as she could to see her family, but could not make a life for herself with the instability caused by hatred, violence, and death.
Suddenly Lela reached for a CD and said, “Listen to this song. Isn’t it the best!”
I dream of rainDesert Rose, songwriter Sting
I dream of gardens in the desert sand
I wake in vain
I dream of love as time runs through my hand
Although the song pulsated with passionate Middle Eastern rhythms and opened with background singing in Arabic, the main voice was unmistakable and I knew immediately it was Sting, the British singer/songwriter. It was a powerful song, and I was struck by it immediately. But why had this song spoken so powerfully to our Lebanese friend?
Well, Desert Rose was a huge hit in countries around the world including the Arab world. Sting said he wrote it as an homage to the Rai music he had heard in Paris nightclubs. which is a fusion music, combining elements of Arabic, French, jazz, and other world-music styles.
Some of the most popular musical genres, such as rock and roll, are combinations of earlier musical influences.
Rock and Roll: a type of popular dance music originating in the 1950s, characterized by a heavy beat and simple melodies. Rock and roll was an amalgam of black rhythm and blues and white country music, usually based on a twelve-bar structure and an instrumentation of guitar, bass, and drums.The Oxford English Dictionary
Like Rai, rock and roll is a fusion music bringing together musical styles from countries very different from one another.
So Desert Rose was a top ten hit in a host of countries, rose eventually to number nine in the U.S., and was a Top 20 hit in the U.K., but again why had this song resonated with our friend from Lebanon who could not live in her home country because of war.
I dream of rainDesert Rose, Songwriter: Sting
I lift my gaze to empty skies above
I close my eyes
The rare perfume is the sweet intoxication of love
I believe the song gave her hope that vastly different cultures can respect each other’s cultures by coming together. Hearing Sting singing in English combined with Algerian singer Cheb Mami singing in Arabic, with a wall of Middle Eastern rhythmic beat supports the possibility of union over division.
Many people in the 1950s were at first not comfortable with combining black and white music, or black and white musicians playing together. To these people, country music should stand alone, rhythm and blues should stand alone, and they had won the day, rock and roll would never have been born. In their homogenous, white-bread world there would have been no Elvis Presley, no Chuck Berry, no Johnny Cash, no Little Richard, no Buddy Holly, and no Everly Brothers. And without them, there would have been no Beatles, and the deluge of musicians influenced by the Beatles. Thankfully the music won–and so did we.
I believe the song gave her hope that as rain can fall in the desert bringing new life and the possibility for renewal, growth, and fulfillment. Even if it has not, as yet, happened in Lebanon.
Today, twenty-one years later, we have a worldwide plague, the coronavirus Covid 19, to add to the tensions between countries, religions, tribes, sexes, and people who speak different languages, have different cultural mores, and have different skin colors. We can argue that such things as skin color and religion and sex and the language a person speaks should not be the determining factor in whether a person has value, but we have not collectively arrived at the enlightened moment when such things can be overcome. And if history is an example, humankind cannot get to that place.
Unlike the other animals living on our planet, we humans have proven throughout recorded history that we have the capacity to kill our own kind in the millions with reasons that upon reflection are truly mind boggling. Case in point, take World War I, where the heir of a European country and his wife were assassinated in another country in 1914, and after four years of carnage involving a good portion of the world, at least 16 million people were dead. That was not nearly enough, however, so 21 years later, in 1939, during World War II, around 75 million people were killed including around 20 million military personnel and 40 million civilians, many of whom died because of deliberate genocide, massacres, mass-bombings, disease, and starvation.
We could learn many things from the other animals on this planet. History has shown us that as a species we have not evolved to be sentient creatures who value the life of our own kind enough to act on that awareness.
However, and there is a however. We still abide. We are still alive; where there is life, there is hope. We still love. There is still music. And there is Bruce Springsteen.
Hey what else can we do now?Thunder Road, songwriter: Bruce Springsteen
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair
Well the night’s busting open
These two lanes will take us anywhere
We got one last chance to make it real
To trade in these wings on some wheels
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks
Perhaps there is an answer in the Arabic opening lyrics in the song Desert Rose that Lela loved:
Oh night oh nightDesert Rose, songwriter: Sting
It has been a long time
And I am looking for myself and my loved one
There is such a concept in ancient religions called Karuṇā which is translated as compassion or mercy and sometimes as self-compassion. Perhaps we can elevate our human condition and a have a decent shot at happiness by having compassion for ourselves by putting the metaphorical oxygen mask on ourselves first before we place a metaphorical oxygen mask on our fellow life travelers. This self-compassion and self-love makes it at least possible to extend love and compassion to our loved ones, our friends, and other humans.
If we look at things from above, perhaps 220 miles above our planet as in the photo above taken of Egypt from the International Space Station in 2010, we can get a glimpse of what is really important in our world: Our planet, beauty, inspiration, and life.
~ Anna // 7-31-2021