There are many advantages we take for granted living in a small space. It is a flaw that we often seem unable to appreciate what we have, or maybe we just don’t notice because we have not been taught how to observe: A failure of parenting and formal education.
I was regretful when I realised at the age of just turned 17 and living abroad that I did not know much about the two seasons in TT except roughly when the dry and the wet started and ended. I had never noticed that the moon rose in different places in the sky every evening and that the dawn and sunset started earlier or later depending on the time of year. I had observed that Christmas time was cold at night and August was furiously humid but I was oblivious to the actual effect that had on the fruit and vegetables available at any particular time. Because back then we had not yet become so voraciously dependent upon imported food, most young people understood that whatever we loved best was not available all year around and that what we ate did not land from the sky packaged, rather, that people grew it. We, therefore, had a connection with nature, even if tenuous.
That was a big difference between me and the city dwellers of London. I soon came to realise too that we had a different relationship with death compared to my new country of residence and also with the old. Most people I first met had never seen a dead body or cared for an old person or even a younger sibling. For the most part, the extended family did and does not exist and all the vicarious learning about life and death that we still are fortunately subject to had passed them by. Unless they had some rural antecedents or engaged purposefully in outdoor pursuits my new acquaintances had never seen animals in their natural habitats or picked fruit from a tree. Sadly, now that TT is becoming pretty much a city state we too are slowly losing these elemental connections. Yet, we should pause and take stock.
The number of deaths in other countries of people in countless homes for the aged is nothing short of scandalous. Many of those elderly, though not all, have no relatives, are estranged from them, if they do have any, or have not-very-close relationships with their offspring. That reality exists on a much smaller scale here but we are also a much more compassionate society, not least because our size enables us to stay in contact with one another. It is a human tragedy that the demise of tens of thousands of elderly folk won’t even be noticed or recorded, as if their lives were worthless.
Death, the grim stalker, is now with us daily. No more pretending that dying does not happen and refusing to talk about it for fear that we bring it on. We probably each watch the mounting international death toll and worry that we too might get carried off by the current plague. The sudden death last week of the much beloved member of the artistic community Tony Hall, not from coronavirus, occasioned an acute outpouring of regret and deep appreciation, made all the more poignant by his end coming now. The impact of his theatrical and TV work upon TT is legend, but also he is remembered for his great humanity, warmth, humour and generosity. His most outstanding play Jean and Dinah is a classic and ensures his abundant contribution is never forgotten. Tony’s departure has left a big dent in the ether. It is very upsetting, even though he left the place better than he found it and he simply did what we all have to do eventually, i.e. make our exit.
The recent death of Bill Withers was equally emotionally draining. The memory of his incredibly resonant lyrics that reflect commonplace human life, sung in that unique, gritty voice haunted me. He appeared out of nowhere onto the 1970’s music scene, making himself forever memorable with songs like his favourite, which is surprisingly about his deceased grandma. Her hands kept him safe and often “came in handy. She’d say Matty don't you whip that boy. What you want to spank him for?” Or she’d warn him, “Billy, don't you run so fast, might fall on a piece of glass. Might be snakes there in that grass.”
Edwidge Danticat’s short story collection Everything Inside was chosen by judges of the OCM Bocas Prize as the best work of fiction by a Caribbean writer in 2020. As with all her work, this collection deals perfectly beautifully and lightlity with the dark side of life, and with a simplicity akin to Bill Withers lyrics. Her stories capture the everyday truths about life, which always include death. It is her very special way of helping us understand living. Catch her reading from her winning book at www.bocaslitfest.com