To Be Or Not To Be . .
I miss John Compton! I was moping over the old coot’s departure even before his final curtain on September 7, 2007. By the time he permitted himself to be persuaded to undertake his last political adventure, Compton was no longer the man I had come to know and not-so-secretly admire, never mind a quarter century’s worth of political life’s vicissitudes.
And now, dear impatient reader, the Fakebook geniuses in particular, please try to resist the mined temptation to understand me too quickly. What I am about to reveal has little to do with our first prime minister’s countless achievements, whether or not universally appreciated. Let us for once choose not to recall the sins of the passed, if only to avoid embarrassing encounters with the much alive man in the mirror.
But lest I digress too far, let’s return to my starting point. I miss John Compton most of all for his wit, for his bon mots, more often than not delivered inadvertently—always with the straightest face. The biblical lesson about prophets in their own land comes to mind; but then it also occurs to me that Compton was not to this manor born—which might explain why he stood out from the rest of the herd. But that’s for another Sunday.
To return to the gems that seemed to fall so naturally out of his mouth, usually in local kweyol, and despite that he was “a Vincie boy” who never set foot on Saint Lucian soil until he was about fifteen or sixteen: Toutes Laybar say voleur; toutes Laybar say envioleur! (For further elucidation, interested young readers, as unfamiliar with the mother tongue as with local history, will for a change have to depend on the memory banks of their thirty-something parents!)
Shortly before he passed, one of my reporters tried to pry out of Compton the reason he had publicly declared the Labour Party—of which he had once been a leading member—a party of thieves and rapists, albeit in kweyol. His response: “You’re asking me about a subject no one knows better than your publisher. Ask him!”
The reporter, who was not yet born when Compton spat out his famous put-down at a Vieux Fort rally of his United Workers Party, returned to her desk absolutely kerfuffled. As she relived her moment with Compton I couldn’t help wondering how long he had been waiting for the particular question from a STAR reporter’s mouth.
While driving through Castries on a recent wet evening, the deceased prime minister came to mind. Perhaps the ubiquitous garbage I encountered en route to my home was the trigger. I recalled yet another of his rallies, this time in William Peter Boulevard, when Compton had taken to task the then leader of the House opposition, whose wife and the late prime minister’s widow are sisters. In retaliation to whatever his political opposite had said, Compton implied that all Saint Lucia had going for it was its image in the eyes of trusting foreign investors—and for which he alone was responsible.
“When you sully my reputation,” he lectured his audience, “you sully the reputation of our country. Without my reputation all you have is trash.” Did he mean to say his relative by marriage was garbage? Only the Shakespearean Compton knew for certain.
As I drove home with trash on my mind on the remembered rainy Sunday I wondered how many of our parliamentarians would dare to brag during a House session about how they value their unassailable reputations way above any number of BMWs and offshore bank accounts. Can you, dear reader, conceive of the popular reaction? As for you, secret wannabe Kardashian, what would you not give for a Chanel or a Louis Vuitton clutch bag?
Consider, if you will, a local hot-shot complaining to a recent police training school graduate that some jumbie had jumped his wife and grabbed her purse—multiple credit cards, valuables and all— while momentarily distracted by the uplifting ambience of the Castries waterfront. Imagine the officer advising the poor man not to worry, go home to his TV, and thank his lucky stars his wife’s reputation remained intact. Would the gentleman offer a thank-you-Jesus prayer that all his wife had lost was trash, that it wasn’t as if she’d lost her good name to some nameless serial rapist?
Okay, let’s get closer still to home. Let’s imagine you woke up one morning to discover as you’re about to set off to work that the brand new left-hand-drive Honda you parked near your home the night before has vanished. Would your first thought be “he who steals my car steals trash” and all that other Shakespearean guff you picked up in college?
What if local magistrates should suddenly take it into their learned heads to dismiss the pending scores of robberies and burglaries before the courts, on the Shakespearean premise that what really matters are our reputations, not our trashy purses and wallets? Would we take to the streets with placards bearing messages that speak loudest about our education system?
As I write, some flak catcher is on the radio carrying on about how Saint Lucia once was listed among the world’s least corrupt nations, thanks to a former wonderful prime minister with his unshakable belief in transparency and accountability.
If John Compton was correct back in the day when he said our country’s most valuable asset was its leader’s squeaky clean reputation; if the hack on the radio spoke nothing but truth, then why do we continue to borrow more and more millions in the name of survival? Why can’t we shop in the good name of our leaders?
Could the problem be our propensity for disposing of hard cash—earned, borrowed or stolen—as if truly it were trash? Or could it be our reputation has always been trash?
The late Sir John Compton: He believed strongly that a nation’s fortunes rise or fall, dependent on the world view of its leader!