He left a void


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Category: Profiles Date: 19 Mar 00

Archbishop Anthony Pantin is entombed in a crypt, and is now according to his wishes, an indelible part of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.


Even if you didnít share his faith, if he didnít affect your life, what do you think, what do you feel at his passing? I didnít know him very well. He didnít affect my life on a daily basis, but whether or not you agreed with him, he represented a yardstick, a solidity, an immutable measure of what was right and wrong, according to his religion.


The death that of a public figure, the head of a powerful church, a man with such an ostensibly robust and hearty public image, and the inevitable denouement takes place. Life itself begins to unravel; revealing and concealing itself, making us question the premise of our very existence, magnifying the colours of life and death. 


Life unravels a little with each death, but with this one, an entire complicated fabric lays itself out for inspection:

Facing oneís mortality, the certain but random dice of death, which nothing, not wealth, not prestige, not friends, not families, or lovers, can stop for any human being;

The role of religion, weighing up dogma, exclusivity, the sometimes bloody carving out of territory, (not just Catholicism but in all religions) with the fact that religions provide a necessary moral premise, (of an essential humanity  kindness, generosity, a purpose that of taking care of the vulnerable, giving a helping hand to the fallen) which serve as brakes against complete human chaos if everyone decided to succumb to his or her bestial nature.

Ritual in death: the way ancient ritual - the prayers, and hymns, bells and sacraments, sanctify human life, give a human-being dignity in death, numbs the sense of futility of life for those who are left behind; and glues together families, communities, and a country, forces them to put aside their differences, and collectively bow for a time, however fleeting, to a force much larger than themselves.


So we see Prime Minister and Opposition Leader, the ordinary housewife on independence square, the vagrant, the pundit, the priest, and the maulana, together acknowledging death the great equaliser. But there is more to ritual, to eulogies than that. There is something artificial about them; the dead cross into the frightening unknown, and so are often sanctified, and in doing so, dehumanised as one is reluctant to recall any human qualities of failure or fallibility in them. But eulogies serve a purpose. If the work is complete its because its over. In this life anyhow. We will none of us, see our own picture. That will be left to others.


Then the unravelling begins. The believers say only a Supreme God can judge, but still, over and over again, the summation of the life of a public figure is done, in a paragraph, if he or she is not that important, in pages and for days, if like Archbishop Anthony Pantin, he had a big impact on a large community, and on the country in general.


In all the clutter of news on radio, print and television, in all the letters of condolence, one word remains uppermost in my mind. It was part of a sentence that began with ďhe left a voidĒ.


We live in the time of the electronic global village, which there is an increasing scrambling over the backs of others to fulfil an individual, rather than collective destiny, where ironically people feel more isolated; where society is steadily being divided into those whoíve made it and the increasing ranks of the underclass. Now, more than ever we need the solidity Archbishop Pantin represented.


Gradually the word void became more and more frightening. More unravelling. I saw how a single person, a family, a community, an entire country could either rise or fall depending on its leaders the people who reflect and steer a society.


We are now a country of some substance because we still have among us, sons who have remained loyal to the soil, men of education, self made men and scholars, who are widely read, and travelled, and are rooted in or at least understand, the principles of humanity and democracy.


Despite their faults, we have drawn men of substance - Presidents and Prime Ministers from that pool. We drew economists, like Frank Rampersad and William Demas, religious leaders like Archbishop Abdullah, and Archbishop Pantin, and philanthropists like Gerry Pantin from that pool, journalists like Raoul Pantin and George John, artists like Peter Minshall and Rudder.


But that pool is gradually drying up. The baton was not passed on. And with that drying, the toothless, rotten void gapes wider, like a monster of the deep.


Look around you at the men and women in their 30s, 40s and early 50s.  Which public figure of substance, in the arts, sciences, humanities, unions, university, or politics in that generation do you look up to? Scramble for names.


I see shifty greedy men, partisan, racial politics, and power without responsibility or substance. These, ladies and gentlemen are the people who we are depending on to pass on to our children, a liberal education, opportunities, and a sense of responsibility towards ones fellow human beings. Write in, so we can identify one or two. That question asked so long ago in public, before the gunshots rang out, haunts me who is your leader?


Archbishop Anthony Pantin in his death, began our unravelling and to our horror we saw the great void.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur