The Star (St. Lucia) - - COMMENT - By Peter Josie

When I was grow­ing up, ages five, six and seven, there was much com­mer­cial ac­tiv­ity around me. Every­where one turned there was the pres­ence of Amer­i­can soldiers, their 4-wheel jeeps and 14-wheel trucks min­gled with the rank and file of the cit­i­zenry. Within the hub­bub a boy dis­cerned per­va­sive poverty, squalor and want in parts of his lit­tle town. Churches were filled on week­ends as they stood cheek by jowl with liquor shops, juke­boxes and such­like. By the words that fell from the pi­ous clergy one per­ceived, even at that early age, at least two types of peo­ple lived in that space – the faith­ful and the faith­less. The lat­ter were with­out and needed Je­sus.

The town lay be­tween the chain-linked fence mark­ing the bound­aries of the US Air Base, and the Caribbean Sea to its south. It was a place which seemed to hide its soul when­ever it re­turned to the work­ing day, re­cov­er­ing from week­ends of gai­ety. On Mon­days peo­ple hur­ried past each other un­feel­ingly, as they did walk­ing past the wooden house where Keith lived on An­strafal Lane. It was about 100 feet from its junc­tion with Clarke Street. There was lit­tle at­tempt at em­pa­thy as peo­ple hur­ried to and from work. Keith was af­flicted with se­vere pain from kid­ney stones. He cried and wailed all day. He seemed in­cur­able. Yet it was a place that pur­sued God as it did the ‘Yan­kee dol­lar’.

The hap­pi­est part of my young life was vis­it­ing my grand­par­ents who lived be­yond the town. A panoramic view of the Air Base and the sea gave a dif­fer­ent slant and mean­ing to life. There were open pas­tures where cows grazed freely and horses, sheep and goats lay teth­ered. The town re­mained within sight but its tap-danc­ing and juke­boxes were soon out of mind. So too was its con­stant hus­tle.

It was in that open space that one looked in­quir­ingly at the Caribbean Sea, dis­cern­ing white boat sails of fish­er­men re­turn­ing home. It was there too that dreams were born and vi­sions took shape. Watch­ing US war­ships go east past the town and dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind the Maria Islets, one imag­ined for­eign lands be­yond the dis­tant hori­zon.

A lack of for­mal learn­ing at home, save for the three Rs, was more than made up for by the free­dom from want and the free­dom to play and ex­plore one’s sur­round­ings. Peo­ple were busy plant­ing, raising an­i­mals and har­vest­ing and pack­ag­ing for sale. Com­pared to eight-hour work­ing days at ‘the base’ for wages, the ur­ban was a happy, sublime and pas­toral life – an un­sung su­pe­rior liv­ing.

Yes, life was good and so was God! That’s what I was told and I be­lieved it. I be­lieved be­cause those who pro­vided love, se­cu­rity and sus­te­nance said it. Upon re­turn­ing to my par­ents’ home in the town, the dif­fer­ence be­came stark. Poverty, crude man­ners and a lack of grace threat­ened. The dol­lar was god, and God was every­where. It soon en­tered one’s mind that one was lucky to be blessed with par­ents who led, guided and pro­tected.

Later, as one left home for Cas­tries and St. Mary’s Col­lege in the com­pany of only two oth­ers that year, one sensed a turn­ing point in one’s life. From that time on­wards one was en­cour­aged to learn; to fly and to dwell amongst God’s bet­ter crea­tures – the ea­gle. How to be amongst chick­ens and not in­cul­cate their poor feed­ing habits was a chal­lenge, qui­etly spo­ken. One learned that the good book must be made a guide and tes­ta­ment through­out the vi­cis­si­tudes of one’s life. It was in­dis­pens­able. It taught love, hu­mil­ity, gen­tle­ness, knowl­edge and un­der­stand­ing as life’s foun­da­tion plank. That book helped ex­plain the ea­gle: To dwell with oth­ers while main­tain­ing its dig­nity and self­worth, as God de­sired.

Af­ter bi­ol­ogy and ge­net­ics had ex­plained who he was, he pon­dered the his­tory of his en­vi­ron­ment and his cir­cum­stances. Later, eco­nom­ics and pol­i­tics more clearly de­fined his so­cial sur­round­ings while phi­los­o­phy hinted at how one might shape a bet­ter fu­ture. The study of agri­cul­ture delved into the ma­trix of na­ture sug­gest­ing ways it might be ex­plored for the avoid­ance of want. To cap it all off, one’s re­li­gious be­liefs added a crown­ing layer to the prod­uct one was to be­come.

At that des­tiny he ar­rived at the un­happy con­clu­sion that the causes of man’s suf­fer­ings are founded on greed nur­tured by re­li­gious and po­lit­i­cal fa­nati­cism. To com­bat such evil one must fight ig­no­rance, big­otry and prej­u­dice wher­ever one finds it. The tragic re­sults of do­ing noth­ing are every­where around us in the world. For th­ese rea­sons, one finds it de­mean­ing to flat­ter im­pos­ture or to re­ward in­com­pe­tence and de­ceit. It means that one must never stop scru­ti­niz­ing and sham­ing those who have cho­sen pub­lic of­fice to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple and the sys­tem and, in the process, en­rich them­selves.

On such a jour­ney as this, it’s im­pos­si­ble on re­flec­tion not to per­ceive the glo­ri­ous hands of an all-pow­er­ful, om­nipresent and om­nipo­tent God. How does one ex­plain an­other boat sud­denly ap­pear­ing to save the party of twelve young col­lege boys drift­ing out of the Cas­tries har­bour when the en­gine of their pirogue stalled? Michael Hack­shaw and Er­rol Cadet had taken it into their heads to of­fer a three­penny ride on sep­a­rate boats to col­lege stu­dents from Gan­ter’s wharf to Prince Al­fred Basin, af­ter school. The more ad­ven­tur­ous com­plied and the cross­ing was easy and ef­fi­cient un­til the day an en­gine stalled in mid-har­bour. There was no coast guard, no habour police, no se­cu­rity and no one in sight. Sud­denly, a boat ap­peared and towed us to safety. Be­lieve what­ever you wish but I know that God had sent an an­gel to save us that af­ter­noon. That same God still guides me today. I there­fore find it im­pos­si­ble to bow to, or to be in­tim­i­dated by, mor­tal man.

Along one’s de­vel­op­ment path, a spirit of ex­cel­lence be­came anath­ema to medi­ocrity and greed. That spirit awak­ens a deep dis­dain for yard fowls pre­tend­ing to be ea­gles. If one ap­pears dis­re­spect­ful, it is be­cause one op­poses greed and self­ish­ness as one strives to­wards a happy, sublime and pas­toral life. In this, one uses God’s gift to speak truth­fully and freely, shed­ding light upon the dark­ness of a seem­ingly love­less tribe. There is no life more wor­thy than this.

“One must never stop scru­ti­niz­ing and sham­ing those who have cho­sen pub­lic of­fice to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple and the sys­tem and, in the process, en­rich them­selves.”

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