said in a million ways, I suppose, so there’s no harm in repeating it
this first day of 2006. We can’t make resolutions to change the old ways
(stubborn species that we are) unless we understand our old ways.
a week of rifling through Western history, in Washington’s Smithsonian
Mall, I am glutted with the past. Inside the doors of these beautifully
laid-out museums, each an ode to architecture, is a compressed
documentation of the horror, intelligence and beauty that man is capable
of—classical and modern art, the invention of flying, or the horror of
war, and the holocaust, where a sadistic, deeply sick regime was able to
systematically kill six million Jews leading them like cattle to gas
are collective events but they symbolise universal human attributes in
you, in me. Our confused, lop-sided selves, lovely and horrible, envious
and generous at the same time.
of Washington’s museums encircle a park with wintery skeletal trees
where squirrels dart, children skate, and joggers deaf to the world with
their iPods, scatter old autumn leaves. The scene reminds me of sunset at
the Queen’s Park Savannah, the heady scents of blossoms underfoot,
rapidly changing colours of the sky above, a brush of rain, dew we call
it, on our cheeks.
in the winter, the cold air snaps around your face until you feel a fever
about you, but the exuberance at encountering the blend of man-made and
natural beauty is the same.
are all not so different after all. Yet, here we are tourists, eagerly
looking at the way other people live, and see themselves.
yes, we do marvel, necks straining at the Congress Library with its
stained glass, marble floors, intricate 23-carat gold work ceilings and
millions of books. We stand, insignificantly dotted around the mammoth
memorials of Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington, trace our fingers on the
thousands of engraved names of the dead in Vietnam crammed on a black
wall. We watch as an old man prays, tears rolling down his cheeks against
one name that could have been a father, brother, friend.
visit Arlington, where the military dead are buried neatly, a breathtaking
memorial white atrium, and the Kennedy family plot lit with an eternal
flame commanding a panoramic view, the rustling tree-filled cemetery. If
you were just a tourist, life would appear so contained. The dead
remembered, the lessons learned, beauty and intelligence documented.
real life seeps through, as it always does, even through this dazzling
sheen, the seat of a superpower, of a commander-in-chief, whose commands
break and create governments, leave thousands dead, raise and drop the
price of oil.
yes, there are cracks revealing messiness of which we are all made. You
see them in the old homeless people sleeping in the cold, on the plush
pavements of Georgetown. A leaked report tells you of the government’s
“domestic surveillance,” the tapped phones, hacked e-mails of
thousands of civilians, without the permission or knowledge of the
cab drivers tell you of the people who recruit young underprivileged boys
from ghettoes to the army, playing on their bravado, playing down the
danger. You see the divide. The non-whites, the immigrants holding almost
all the low-paid jobs of maids, shop assistants, cleaners.
time for us all to update our memorials. For America to examine Katrina,
their motives, their dead in Afghanistan and Iraq.
us, in T&T, it’s time we erected memorials to the dead in 1990, to
the kidnapped, murdered, traumatised citizens from every area, every
socio-economic background, from Laventille to Westmoorings.
one of us hasn’t been traumatised?
best response to any kind of terror, state or civilian, or personal, is to
live as normally as we can, to remember that the price of our liberty, our
beauty, our intelligence, our knowledge, our health, is eternal vigilance,
to guard against the horror within ourselves (our greed, our vanity, our
prejudices) and to live without fear.
and move on. But remember.