Appreciations - Island Thu, Jan 10, 2002
Destry Muller, 1980-2001
Just before Christmas 2001, I was listening to American singer Christy Lane. My son, Destry had registered some of her songs on my computer and he seemed to like hot voice and, especially, the songs she sang.
Christy Lane has no spectacular voice; but she sang of the love of God and of the sheer humanity of the Saviour who was born among men. "Softly and tenderly," she sang, "Jesus is calling..."
When Destry answered that call on the fifth day of Christmas, December 29, he knew no softness or tenderness. The winds of God must have roared and buffeted my house as Destry’s spirit left his broken, lacerated, 21-year-old body...and with him went dreams, hopes, all happiness. How does one ever understand? How does a father, a mother, loving sisters and a brother come to terms with death?
My son Destry was born in Dubai in 1980. The moon over Karama was big and bright and he came to us, softly and tenderly. We watched him grow — a child who was slow to talk even slower to read or write because he possessed that amazing gift to his sisters read to him and memorize every word. He would then take the book read back the story flawlessly...but he never recognized any of the words he supposedly read. Why should he? They were all in his head.
As he took hold of his own education on our return to Sri Lanka, he became strong of opinion, of conviction, and it was my privilege to see a mind blossom. To my own exasperation, many were the times I had to strive to understand, but I as a son so brilliant that he seemed to carry his own halo of ethereal light wherever he went and into every boyhood scrape he got into. The home soon had to accept it. There was the family way and Destry’s way. The ways never parted, but always there was that distinct recognition of the difference.
At the Ecole International, Kandy, his schoolmates called him "Destroy". He would actually do that, but not in the common sense of the word. He had that special knack of "destroying" the specious, the trite, the boring obvious. He was a seeker. He believed that behind all truth lay a greater truth. "Blind acceptance," he would say with impatience, and argue his way through life.
Home became a place of return as he explored, roamed the hills and jungles. He selected his friends with care and fashioned them, I suspect, to his will. He would roam the Knuckles massif for days — alone against the sky, breathing in the grandeur, the solitude of Nature, then return to tell of his nights in a cave, or sleeping with a pillow of rock with the stars on his face. Unafraid — always unafraid — swimming the cold waters of the Teldeniya reservoir, riding his motorcycle up Hantane, leaping his machine from rock to rock in the moonlight, sitting to look on a sleeping Kandy at three in the morning and telling his friends, "The only thing I am afraid of is being afraid".
He began to excel as a photographer and was a wizard at the computer. He stacked my computer with so many programmes and applications of his choice that it now keeps complaining, "Too many parameters". Destry would chuckle. "Stupid machine," he would say and was particularly charmed to see it automatically correct his name to "Destroy" each tune he keyed it in. He told me then: "This computer is so like people everywhere. It is afraid of the unfamiliar. It is afraid to take a chance and admit that there is a Destry."
I think this was becoming true of his very life too. To many, Destry was a factor that could be disturbing. Devastatingly forthright, alarmingly honest, he disarmed many and left his mark in his comings and goings. Professor C. B. Dissanayake, speaking at an exhibition of his photographs at the Alliance Francaise, Kandy, said: "It will not be long. Destry will soon outshine his father." My eyes were particularly bright that evening because of a proud tear in each of them.
His reading embraced mysticism, philosophy, humour and prophecy. His poems are grave, fervent with each thought seeming to burst at the seams. His was an all-sorts mind and he was just as happy with trowel and mortar as he was with wires and batteries and regulators and with a copy of Tolkien or Terry Pratchett or with writings on man’s quest for immortality. He was convinced that this life was of little worth and the world was a sort of cosmic dustbin into which all dreams were consigned. Why is there no peace? Why is there so much horror and hatred and pollution and why is Nature victimized so? And he would tell his mother, "This is no place for me. I hate this world of hatred and jealousy and the hot breaths of fools who have no love for anything but theirselves."
He did not care for nice clothes. "If that’s what the world insists on, then the world is run by tailor’s dummied.". He did not care for money either. He earned it, and his photography brought him much... and he would spend it all on the poor, the helpless. Each day he would stuff the saddlebags of his motorcycle with parcels and we never asked. It was not our business to ask. He would-carry gifts to homes of refuge, orphanages, elder’s homes. It was only when we brought his body home that we knew, to some extent, of his love for the helpless? The deprived, for those bereft and alone. The numbers that swarmed my home came from places in the district I never knew existed. They came to tell of my son’s love, his support of how he worked for them, helped them, knit his soul with theirs. That night I wept and wept. What else could I do?
Destry was struck down by a private bus barely 500 yards from home at 10 in the morning of December 29. He was pronounced dead at 2 p.m. We brought his body home the next day and consigned him to the earth on the last day of the year. Beside his grave, tall trees greet the sky and the wind sings and dry leaves bless him. A place he would like being in where dreams can be seen.
Our rainbow had lost its band of gold but he is locked close in the hearts of us all.
No, son, it will never be goodbye!