No fort is strong enough

Stabroek News Sunday - - REGIONAL NEWS -

ITn last week’s col­umn I wrote about a per­va­sive anx­i­ety about the state of things in gen­eral which cur­rently fo­cuses on the seem­ingly un­stop­pable spread of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity and vi­o­lent crime in so­ci­ety. This cre­ates fear and ten­sion and an end­less feel­ing of in­se­cu­rity which, among other things, is not at all con­ducive to the strength­en­ing of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions and the long-term preser­va­tion of civil rights. Given the choice be­tween safety and the tra­di­tional free­doms there is strong ev­i­dence to show that peo­ple pre­fer safety.

Un­for­tu­nately, anx­i­ety in Guyana to­day stems more fun­da­men­tally than sim­ply from fear of crime. There is a gen­er­al­ized dread that bad trou­ble is bound to go on flow­ing from the dis­rup­tive, un­heal­able, seem­ingly eter­nal an­tag­o­nism be­tween In­doGuyanese and Afro-Guyanese. The bad trou­ble is seen as per­ma­nent dom­i­nance by one or the other race or as eco­nomic stag­na­tion and de­cline caused by the racial di­vi­sion or as grad­ual so­ci­etal break­down with sal­va­tion seen in ex­ile or as “trou­ble in the streets” or as “no fu­ture for the chil­dren.” There is a gen­er­al­ized anx­i­ety about the con­di­tion of hu­man­ity in this place where we live. And this anx­i­ety grows day by day de­spite ev­ery ef­fort to play down its se­ri­ous­ness. here is some­thing else just as fun­da­men­tal to con­sider. Let us never for­get in our so­phis­ti­cated mus­ings that the ex­pe­ri­ence of grind­ing poverty is the worst, but prob­a­bly least an­a­lysed, anx­i­ety of all. Never to be able to put aside enough for the most ba­sic needs to­mor­row or even the day to come as morn­ing breaks, never to know the shel­ter of a de­cent, or any, dwelling, never to have the means to teach your­self or har­bour any hope that your chil­dren will be taught, never to have the means to cure sick­ness, never to feel se­cure for a day, even for an hour, never to en­joy any mem­ory of love or com­fort or praise or en­cour­age­ment – this must be dread of an en­tirely dif­fer­ent kind, of an ex­trem­ity be­yond con­cep­tion, a deep and lim­it­less anx­i­ety out of reach, I ad­mit, of my es­ti­ma­tion or the ad­e­quate es­ti­ma­tion of any­one who writes about such things. I sim­ply note it, I can­not an­a­lyse it. But it must be there, the deep anx­i­ety of the hope­less poor, breed­ing crime, re­in­forc­ing ig­no­rance, cul­ti­vat­ing ha­treds, cling­ing to ranters and ravers, fu­elling bit­ter­ness, latch­ing on to des­per­ate reme­dies, nurs­ing eth­nic di­vi­sion and mu­tual sus­pi­cion, cre­at­ing the un­der­ly­ing com­mu­nal ten­sion from which only se­ri­ous poverty re­duc­tion will al­low us to es­cape.

And yet, sadly, es­cape can never be the last word. I write as one who greatly en­joys life but knows that it is fleet­ing. Even if all our prob­lems were mirac­u­lously solved, even if we came to live in a peace­ful, pros­per­ous, set­tled and even serene so­ci­ety, I re­gret to report that mortal man will not es­cape the ba­sic dread of ex­is­tence. It is bred deep in us and there is noth­ing we can do to avoid it since no one re­mains for­ever young. For it is a rule of life that as one ages anx­i­ety grows. In youth one feels safe and im­mor­tal. As the years lengthen that ex­pec­ta­tion fades to noth­ing. The dark an­gels of ill­ness, ac­ci­dent, in­jury and death visit strangers, the friends of friends, friends, rel­a­tives, fam­ily, one’s most beloved and one­self – not nec­es­sar­ily in that or­der. Roger Fan­ning’s poem con­veys the ba­sic ex­pe­ri­ence of all hu­man­ity.

Boys Build Forts

Pet­ri­fied teeth from some fierce – os­aurus, the rock my friend Donny and I piled up in the mid­dle of a field to build a fort. The wind through its chinks made a des­o­late sound I loved. We could have been out on the tun­dra, bone-tired from track­ing musk oxen all day. It thrilled me to crouch in a cow pas­ture and dream I could live here. I pic­tured a cook fire, a skil­let, two fried eggs agog at my good for­tune…Years later, dur­ing pu­berty, I saw Charles At­las ads in the back of my comic books and thought those mus­cles would look fine on me. It was the same idea of build­ing a fort, the same ideal of self-suf­fi­ciency… Of course it’s a crock. My par­ents are gone. They left me a fur­nished house, ev­ery­thing I pic­tured for my fort, and more: mildew that wears march­ing boots, a roof that leaks. I see how things stand. I see how peo­ple get sick. Ev­ery­body that walks this earth and all the ways we try to feel safe: all are bound to fall apart. My sweet father and mother, both dead. That cold creeps in and I feel as though a bear has torn my chest open, and rav­aged the frail hon­ey­comb built there by my folks,

and left me in a field to fill with snow.

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