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 self-worth, 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.