God alone can wring good out of evil—not vot­ers!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT -

Iknow not how best to ex­plain it. Con­ceiv­ably, it could have some­thing to do with the way I was orig­i­nally wired. Some­times I ar­ro­gantly imag­ine I’m uniquely equipped with a one-of-a-kind psy­che that ren­ders me im­per­vi­ous to the usual ef­fects of bad news. Which is not to say I am al­to­gether un­feel­ing; it’s just that by the time my blood tem­per­a­ture has been pushed to boil­ing point, those with reg­u­lar re­sponse sys­tems have not only re­cov­ered from their stresses but they have also moved on bliss­fully to the next am­ne­sia-in­duc­ing state­spon­sored bac­cha­nal.

Now, I am well aware that the above con­fes­sion will com­fort de­trac­tors long ago self-con­vinced I’m the clos­est thing to an alien—yes, yes, that I am ac­tu­ally in­hu­man (sub­hu­man?)—based on a per­ceived dif­fer­ence be­tween my re­ac­tions and those of peo­ple deemed nor­mal. Ah well, such is life on this Rock of Sages. Bet­ter to re­visit our start­ing point: I was ac­knowl­edg­ing my slow re­sponse to news par­tic­u­larly dis­turb­ing to reg­u­lar mor­tals.

My pe­cu­liar dis­ease was un­for­get­tably shoved in my face sev­eral years ago when I picked up the phone dur­ing break­fast on a Sun­day to the worst news imag­in­able. It came from a sis­ter domi­ciled in Toronto: just days be­fore my brother—also res­i­dent in Toronto—was sched­uled to re­turn home per­ma­nently some­one had fa­tally stabbed him in the heart; thirty-two times.

I re­mem­ber clearly ev­ery­thing I had done im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing the call: I fin­ished off my break­fast; kept an ap­point­ment with a woman with her own sorry tale to tell, some­thing to do with a re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence at Vic­to­ria Hospital. Not that thoughts of my murdered brother Vaughan did not oc­cupy my mind. In truth I sim­ply could not shake the feel­ing that for rea­sons be­yond my com­pre­hen­sion I had been es­pe­cially blessed . . . never mind his hardly se­cret ap­petite for sybaritic ac­tiv­i­ties, I could not re­call an oc­ca­sion when I’d seen him truly happy. And yes, I blamed my­self for not try­ing harder to get close to him . . . at any rate, close enough to glimpse his soul. It seemed to me as I pon­dered my brother’s rel­a­tively short life that some peo­ple, no mat­ter how hard they try, are doomed never to touch the sky. Oth­ers who break all the rules at ev­ery turn seem to have ev­ery­thing good tossed at them. Count me among the lat­ter.

It wasn’t un­til Vaughan’s ashes had been brought from Canada nearly a month af­ter his mur­der that I ar­rived at the end of my fuse. Alone in my parked ve­hi­cle, well away from the crowd at the burial site, I could do noth­ing about the ocean of emo­tion that had sud­denly ex­ploded in my chest and set me bawl­ing like an aban­doned child for the brother I had lost to vi­o­lence . . . in cir­cum­stances that to this day re­main a mys­tery. Oth­ers who knew my brother well are sim­i­larly con­fused. Just hours be­fore his friend plunged a butcher’s knife thirty-two times into Vaughan’s chest as he slept—on that same friend’s liv­ing room couch—my brother had been par­ty­ing with his killer and his wife at the res­i­dence of shared friends.

Last Sun­day morn­ing, as I lay in bed en­joy­ing the sea­son’s spe­cial TV pro­grams, I took a call from a fe­male ac­quain­tance. “Rick,” she said, “have you heard? I haven’t got­ten the de­tails but my fa­ther just called to tell me some men en­tered the cathe­dral and set the con­gre­ga­tion on fire.”

I sensed the shut­down of my ner­vous sys­tem. The best I could man­age was “What! Clue me in when you know more!” There had been a time when I might have jumped out of bed be­fore my friend had com­pleted her news bulletin. In that ear­lier pe­riod I had writ­ten some of my more mem­o­rable sto­ries— “Mir­a­cle at Den­nery,” about a child who claimed the Blessed Virgin had ap­peared be­fore her . . . area res­i­dents swore they’d wit­nessed rocks com­ing out of nowhere and crash-land­ing all over the wooden shack where the lit­tle girl lived . . . An­other story I cov­ered had boasted all the in­gre­di­ents that two years later would make The Ex­or­cist a box-of­fice smash.

I re­mained glued to the TV, al­though not with the same con­cen­tra­tion that had pre­ceded that call about the cathe­dral. Then my lady friend called again, this time to say at least one per­son had been fa­tally cut­lassed near the main al­tar.

“Any ar­rests?” I asked, in the same tone I might’ve queried the hour. “I don’t know.” “Okay then,” I said, “call me again, I’ll be right here.”

On re­flec­tion, it strikes me that my usu­ally sen­si­tive friend had not asked why I was still at home and not on my way to Castries to cap­ture pic­tures for the pur­poses of his­tory, if for no other rea­son. Ac­tu­ally, I did con­sider the idea but quickly aban­doned it, maybe be­cause I was, for once, with­out a sin­gle cam­era. Yes, I know, a pa­thetic ex­cuse. In that re­vis­ited ear­lier time it would’ve taken me but a few min­utes to col­lect my equip­ment at my stu­dio. This time around, I stayed put, cer­tain that at least two of my re­porters could be counted on not to be­have like their jaded em­ployer in the face of what was ob­vi­ously no run-of- themill roro.

The third time my friend called it was to let me know Cle­tus Springer was on the ra­dio de­liv­er­ing a blow-by-blow of the ac­tion at the cathe­dral. He had been in church when hell’s an­gels de­scended on fel­low wor­ship­pers with their flam­ing torches. Again I thanked my caller and quickly hung up. I was wrestling with the idea of get­ting out of bed and turn­ing on the ra­dio when the phone rang one more time. Some­one wanted to know whether I’d for­got­ten a prom­ise that re­quired my pres­ence at Ciceron.

“Hang on,” I re­as­sured her, “I’m on my way.” It turned out I had not turned off my car ra­dio the last time I used my car. As I turned on the ig­ni­tion, the familiar voice of Cle­tus Springer caught my at­ten­tion. For the next fif­teen min­utes or so I lis­tened to de­tails of what Springer de­scribed as his “worst ex­pe­ri­ence.” Com­pared to it, the fire that had con­sumed the 16th cen­tury Bap­tist Church in Birm­ing­ham, Alabama on De­cem­ber 15, 1963 “paled into in­signif­i­cance.”

It was an al­to­gether un­nec­es­sary com­par­i­son, a com­ment that un­der reg­u­lar cir­cum­stances would not have fallen from the nor­mally metic­u­lous mouth of Cle­tus Springer. The re­called in­ci­dent had al­ways marked an es­pe­cially sig­nif­i­cant part of the civil rights strug­gle in Amer­ica. The Birm­ing­ham fire had de­stroyed more than just a fa­mous house of prayer; it had also taken the lives of four lit­tle girls! At the me­mo­rial ser­vice for the mar­tyred

chil­dren the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had de­liv­ered the eu­logy. His dream dom­i­nat­ing his anger, the civil rights leader had promised: “They did not die in vain. God has a way of wring­ing good out of evil.”

Cle­tus sus­pected the in­ci­dent at the Castries Cathe­dral was rooted in pol­i­tics. At any rate, that was the im­pres­sion I formed af­ter he as­so­ci­ated the at­tack with his re­cent con­tro­ver­sial at­tempts to avoid go­ing into a dis­cus­sion on the mer­its of a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity. But let me be safe and say also that on the morn­ing of De­cem­ber 31, 2000, even be­fore he started talk­ing about what some have de­scribed as a pie-in-the-sky no­tion of gov­ern­ment, Cle­tus thought it nec­es­sary to of­fer his au­di­ence some­thing of an apol­ogy!

I had re­turned home from Ciceron when I be­came dis­turbed about my de­tach­ment from the morn­ing’s hor­ror. Why was I not shocked, as it seemed the whole na­tion was, by the day’s vi­o­lence and the seem­ingly ca­sual des­e­cra­tion of God’s real estate?

The an­swer hit me as I drove to Castries, hav­ing fi­nally de­cided I might live to re­gret not hav­ing wit­nessed first-hand the re­sult of this thing that was quickly shap­ing up to be Saint Lu­cia’s Crime of the Cen­tury. The an­swer I set­tled for was sim­ple: there was lit­tle new about what had hap­pened, save for the lo­ca­tion.

Sev­eral months ear­lier a man had been murdered not far from the cathe­dral’s front en­trance; burned alive. Per­son or per­sons un­re­vealed had doused him with gaso­line, then set him aflame, for all I know, with a torch sim­i­lar to those used at God’s palace. What lit­tle was broad­cast about the then un­prece­dented mur­der by fire in­cluded the ir­rel­e­vant de­tail that he had been “a va­grant.” Other sto­ries sug­gested the home­less man had been for some time clearly off his rocker. Thank good­ness that some­one re­mem­bered, al­most as an af­ter­thought, that the man who was roasted alive had never ac­tu­ally harmed any­one.

If there were ex­pres­sions of sor­row at the par­tic­u­lar ex­am­ple of man’s in­hu­man­ity to man, they most cer­tainly did not amount to a pub­lic out­cry. There were no spe­cial words from an in­con­solable prime min­is­ter. No ses­qui­pe­da­lian emis­sions from the gov­ern­ment’s le­gal depart­ment, noth­ing from the gar­ru­lous min­is­ter of bac­cha­nal. And most strik­ing of all, not one word of re­gret or re­proof from Sarah Flood-Beaubrun— the na­tion’s health min­is­ter with re­spon­si­bil­ity for what passes for men­tal hos­pi­tals in our coun­try—par­lia­men­tary rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Cen­tral Castries, the con­stituency where the va­grant was bar­be­cued by in­vis­i­ble demons.

Then again per­haps the re­sound­ing com­par­a­tive si­lence had ev­ery­thing to do with the re­spec­tive crime scenes: one be­ing con­se­crated, the other be­ing, well, an es­tab­lished hang-out for lost souls—a nat­u­ral habi­tat for the drugged out, the deaf, blind and dumb.

As hor­ri­fy­ing as Saint Lu­cia’s first mur­der by fire had been for me, what had fi­nally moved me to protest was the pub­lic’s shock­ing re­ac­tion—or lack thereof. Some weeks af­ter the in­ci­dent I in­vited two rel­a­tives of the de­ceased to join me on TALK— in a des­per­ate at­tempt to hu­man­ize “the va­grant.” If the show achieved its aim, still the fact re­mains that to date there has been no re­lated state­ment by the gov­ern­ment; no pub­lic de­mand that the police take all the steps to un­cover the worst kind of py­ro­ma­niac in our midst. He re­mains at large, as I said on

TALK, to keep on play­ing with fire at some­one else’s ex­pense.

As I now think about it, what I had ex­pe­ri­enced af­ter Sun­day’s first call about the vi­o­lat­ing of the cathe­dral might be de­scribed as a feel­ing of déjà vu. To bor­row from Voltaire, once a philoso­pher, twice a per­vert. Al­ready I had been well and truly trau­ma­tized, psy­chi­cally de­flow­ered, if you like—per­haps ren­dered im­mune to fu­ture shocks—by the so-what pub­lic at­ti­tude to the open-air roast­ing of a fel­low hu­man be­ing whose cir­cum­stances had ren­dered him a no-ac­count va­grant, there­fore un­wor­thy even of hu­man com­pas­sion.

It oc­curs to me that sense­less vi­o­lence was no stranger to the Cathe­dral of the Im­mac­u­late Con­cep­tion. Re­mem­ber the demon­strated bru­tal­ity of an al­leged “mad­man” with a ma­chete that left two wor­ship­ping elderly tourists maimed for life? It

hap­pened in 1987. Just last Au­gust a church fire in Soufriere had gen­er­ated its own shock waves, if only among the town’s most faith­ful. To the best of my knowl­edge there were no se­ri­ous fol­low-up in­ves­ti­ga­tions, let alone guar­an­tees against fu­ture fire­bugs. That’s just the way it is in boun­ti­ful Saint Lu­cia, where “cri­sis is we busi­ness.” We kolcha!

No sur­prise that on ar­rival out­side the Cathe­dral on Sun­day morn­ing I found my­self im­me­di­ately sur­rounded. Al­though the in­ci­dent was al­ready two hours old, scores of in­di­vid­u­als ob­vi­ously not dressed for mass were de­ter­mined to make them­selves heard. For the most part they cursed “those hu­man rights ac­tivists” for what had be­fallen the city’s good Chris­tian peo­ple. At one point I lost con­trol and lashed out in de­fense of the ab­sent Mary Fran­cis and Mart­i­nus Francois and, l might as well ac­knowl­edge, in de­fense of my own sense of jus­tice.

“Look,” I said to one par­tic­u­larly nox­ious char­ac­ter near the church en­trance. “You gotta be hu­man to ap­pre­ci­ate hu­man rights.”

To an­other deliri­ous de­trac­tor: “Tell me, when was the last time you read about a hu­man rights ac­tivist who en­dorsed mur­der, whether by pri­vate cit­i­zens out of their gourd or by the state in the name of peo­ple who ab­hor the tak­ing of hu­man life un­der any cir­cum­stances?”

Nat­u­rally, the name Al­fred Hard­ing was in­voked. Weeks af­ter his con­tro­ver­sial bru­tal slay­ing by an off-duty trig­ger­happy cop, the gen­er­ated ac­ri­mony had not sub­sided. The day’s par­tic­u­lar dis­as­ter added more fuel to the rag­ing bon­fires of hate.

“Why are you guys so con­cerned about Hard­ing?” asked some­one in t-shirt and shorts. “Why do you care? He was killed by one of us. Why don’t you just for­get about the whole thing and move on?”

“I never knew Hard­ing,” I replied. “What I care about is our Con­sti­tu­tion—which de­mands a full ac­count­ing for ev­ery un­nat­u­ral death, whether of police of­fi­cers or of es­caped con­victs and va­grants. And while we’re at it,” I went on, “does any­one know why we ar­rested Hard­ing in the first place? Our le­gal af­fairs min­is­ter said pub­licly there were no out­stand­ing war­rants for his ar­rest!”

The progress of this par­tic­u­lar train was in­ter­rupted by a drunk who pro­fessed an abid­ing in­ter­est in the where­abouts of Mart­i­nus Francois. Time to move on.

As has al­ready been ac­knowl­edged, what be­fell Saint Lu­cia on New Year’s Eve was ter­ri­ble; hor­ri­fy­ing; un­con­scionable; an abom­i­na­tion. Let it also be ac­knowl­edged that it was merely a nat­u­ral es­ca­la­tion. Could it have been pre­vented? Who knows for cer­tain? Still we must re­mind our­selves that prob­lems ig­nored are des­tined to be­come big­ger and big­ger prob­lems fi­nally be­yond our con­trol.

A dis­ease de­nied is not a dis­ease cured. It oc­curs to me that about a year ago a Saint Lu­cian with St. Croix as his sur­name made head­lines in New York and else­where af­ter he was caught des­e­crat­ing church prop­erty. Only the lo­cal police know for cer­tain whether Mr. St. Croix was among sea­soned, pos­si­bly in­sane crim­i­nals re­cently de­ported by United States au­thor­i­ties to their na­tive Saint Lu­cia! Edi­tor’s Note: The pre­ced­ing first ap­peared in this

news­pa­per on Jan­uary 6 2001

Fran­cis Phillip and Kim John (l-r) were found guilt Af­ter the Privy Coun­cil de­ter­mined they should

They are not ex­pected ever to

ty of mur­der in re­la­tion to the cathe­dral in­ci­dent. d be re­tried, the two agreed to a plea bar­gain.

walk the streets again but . . .

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