If I was superstitious, I would say something was up. A few hours before the launch of Damien Williams’ Grab You Some Lemons at the Jamaica Theological Seminary on March 3, there was an earth tremor that swayed us from side to side (about 4 on the Richter Scale, I believe). As I arrived at the launch, a black cat walked in front of me. Then, as Damien was speaking (I’m sure he didn’t notice, but a couple of us did) a large bird flew across busy, noisy West Avenue, in the deepening dusk. It landed atop a light post, where it settled its feathers and began a hoarse croaking call, at short intervals. It was a Northern Potoo.
Good omens? I think so.
When I arrived, the sun was still syrupy and the welcome I received from the gentlemen at the reception desk was warm. Some guests had arrived a little early and were already sipping pink lemonade and nibbling on sandwiches. The main road, over the wall, was lively and noisy, but it did not spoil the vibes. We were supposed to wear “white and denim,” but I was surprised to note that the author himself did not obey his own dress code – he was wearing a snazzy pair of grass green pants. From a large mango tree hung large, lemon and green paper lanterns. The colour scheme was citrus-and-white – including the book on a white table, with yellow and white roses.
The programme started in a gentle way with educator Jo-Ann Richards, who sang in a lovely contralto:
I don’t want my bones to be buried on this side of the Jordan River/I have to cross over, over/Over to the promised land
The song was interspersed with short readings from the Patois Bible (which I couldn’t help thinking was rather difficult to read out loud. Well, I know it would have been impossible for me..) The impact was soulful and sweet – with a quiet Nyabinghi rhythm in the background. I enjoyed it.
A series of short testimonials followed – including Dr. Henley Morgan, who described Damien as “the best and most riveting teacher of Scripture I’ve ever met.” Another teacher from the JTS, Ama Ababio, observed that he “changed the atmosphere” in a room. Ms. Deedra Harris, a community leader from Naggo Head in St. Catherine, where Damien worked, was looking splendid. She described Damien as “my motivator.” Dr. Paulette Griffiths, who also worked with him in St. Catherine, said he has a “heart of gold.” True!
And Ms. Prudence Hall, who also spoke, wore a delightful lemony fascinator.
Then on came the Jamaica AIDS Support for Life posse. Damien is a Director of JASL – a group of people I have always had so much respect for. Ian McKnight, with JASL from the start, said the “small island boy” gives “solid, good advice,” is a fierce defender of human rights and… “We are very proud of you,” he concluded, in a somewhat paternal manner. Yolanda Paul reminded Damien of how they first met – dancing in a parking lot! – and noted: “This book is not for everyone – but it is for those that need it the most.”
There was a thoughtful discussion, too, with Carla Moore (whose Honey and Lime Jamaica stall was doing a good trade), about Pain and Purpose. “We don’t tolerate pain well in this culture,” said Ms. Moore. You’re telling me, we don’t.
My own small disappointment was that, unlike other book launches, there were no readings from the book itself. However, the words of his friends, supporters, teachers and students, filled up the spaces between the lines in his story with their own fond reflections. Actually, it worked. The book is breathtakingly honest.
“One need not be burdened by circumstance,” said Ian McKnight of JASL.
As I left, a few minutes before the end, there was music. The Potoo had flown away.