First published in the Mirror Newspaper – Friday October 11, 1996 – I do not profess to know anything about anything at all, but I do have a thought. Perhaps you may agree with me that there are many things in this beautiful country of ours that have deteriorated. I know of a period not too long ago, when parents found the time to assist in their children’s activities. It wasn’t too much trouble to visit a girl guide camp, or attend a concert. What is it that has suddenly happened? Why is it that we are all so busy?
Some weeks ago the St. Lucia Girl Guides attempted the weave for peace. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much support from the public. Parents make up that public. What has happened? Aren’t we interested in our children’s lives anymore?
As we continue to grasp upwards, everyday, we become poorer as we lose something that one cannot catch or pin down, or trap in a bottle. It’s not just time, or money, or tangible things; Increasingly, it is about the value of one’s life.
My life has been enriched because I have had the fortune to mingle with young lives. Perhaps that’s why I’m more reflective today. When a fifteen year old boy, a reflection of many, can smile happily and make no apology for putting his own life at risk; he sees nothing wrong with driving in a fast car, with music blaring; his friends urge him on, because they want a piece of the action. Is it that I am just too old and I don’t understand what it’s about anymore? Is anyone else hearing the fear?
A cross-section of our nation’s children do not think about their lives. They boldly, almost proudly state, “well it doesn’t matter anyway, we’re going to die right?” So what does one say to a question like that? Does one indicate, not really, or yes, you’re correct – because you’re going to pass on into the great beyond, it’s alright; don’t be concerned; don’t be caring. Instead, be blasé. When does one begin to think critically? Should we encourage our children to postpone critical thinking because … ah well… these are the terrible teens and after all what else is there to do in life?
There is an underlying sombre note to the sounds of laughter and frivolity that emanate from our nation’s children. There is a cry for help out there, but we are most of us too busy to stop and listen, far less to offer assistance.
W.B. Yeats captures my thought beautifully in his poem – September 1913 – “What need you, being come to sense, but fumble in a greasy till and add halfpence to the pence and prayer to shivering prayer, until you have dried the marrow to the bone?“
One may suggest that the solution is easy. But what is the solution? What do we tell our children each night or each morning? Is it just the food they eat that is important? Or the clothes they must wear? Isn’t there something more? Something deeper, about the value of their lives? Perhaps someone should teach them to ask why it is that they are here, or what it is to have the gift of life?
It should be about more than just the Mathematics or the English Language. Why can’t we just try to be a good daughter or a good friend. Is it really too much trouble just to simply be something positive?
Perhaps this can be your silent message in the way you smile, or help someone. For our nation’s sake, certainly for our children’s sake and for our sake, perhaps we should try to make the change just so that our children can find at least one answer when the question is asked, – Why am I here?
2017 Update: When I first wrote this in 1996, it did not occur to me that I would reference the piece again, for any reason. Now I am glad that I am older and wiser, and have revisited it. It reminds me that the 1990s were still a time of glorious innocence.
We were still shy about baring our flesh, and consequently, we wore more clothing in public. GMOs did not mean anything to me then. We were not as wary as we are now about the food that we ate – not the drinking of cow’s milk; nor eating potatoes or rice or chicken for that matter. While we were encouraged to buy local, the size of our chicken parts was not an issue. Almost overnight however, and in a matter of a couple of months, we have nothing to complain about. Our chicken parts can hold their own with chicken parts anywhere in the world in terms of size. Drumsticks and thighs are far bigger now, than they used to be.
Now we have a new freedom. Maybe it is because it would be a challenge to find anyone who does not own more than one cell phone – present company included. I confess I am still okay with an Alcatel though – make a call, receive a call. Even our children must have their smart phones. Our televisions are smart, and our watches are smarter. Well our cars are hybrid, and we are closer to taking a couple on a private mission around the moon, set to take off by 2018.
1996 – Just over 2 decades ago now. A lot has changed. But not for the better. There is a general malaise that is all pervasive. Drugs and guns speak a new language on the street and every so often, there is a frenzy of gunfire and the result is death in the street, generally of a young person, by the hand of a young person. Or in a horrific accident, death will claim the life of an 18 year old, and a 19 year old, in one svelte move. Even before they understand the value of their lives, death stakes its claim.
Everyday, we go through the motions, but caught in the vicious grip of value added tax (VAT), sluggish economic growth, repeated dislocation caused by climate change (which some say is not really happening), reduced social services, increased threat to populations from vector borne diseases and in some instances, the recurrence of old, once eliminated diseases, survival becomes a fine art. In this picture, it becomes hard to plan, and harder still, to be positive, especially if one’s income is borderline or below the poverty line. The primal thought is how to get by today. It is the greasy till all over again. So from a first world pre-industrial state, to this age of new technology, much has gotten lost in the shuffle, particularly in the developing world.
We talk with our fingers and human interaction – I mean real face to face interaction, in banks and other institutions, and on the telephone, is dwindling. Banks charge interest on credit cards for future purchases, anticipating that you will use your card soon. So getting to and keeping a zero balance is a real challenge.
Small economies like ours will be harder hit over the next 20 years. Developmental politics is still necessary, but it has faded under the impact of globalization. The choice seems to be either growth at all cost, losing patrimony in the process, or on the other hand, political inertia and a perceived “lack of jobs”. This is our excuse for disenfranchised youth and the lack of value that we have placed on life.
I hope I shall be brave enough to use whatever technology exists 20 years down the road, to look back on this piece. I hope I shall be able to find my way back to the past, back to a time of innocence.