Trials of being human


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Category: Reflections 10 Jan 16


“There is some good in this world and it’s worth fighting for.”

—British novelist and academic J R R Tolkien

No human has escaped the days when as we wake our hearts plummet, unequal to face the day. What we want to do is cover our face with the sheets and engulf ourselves under the darkness of cover.

It could be a job loss, a breakup, a deal gone wrong, sickness, or the prospect of financial ruin. We walk as sinking into marsh. It makes mortality and fragility frightening. But the human spirit. That's something else altogether.

It towers over our vulnerable physical selves. A cluster of events brought me to this conclusion. Each time I thought, this was it, the world had changed forever. Instead, a country, a family, and an individual showed us how not to buckle.

Let’s start with the Paris terrorist attacks in November, 2015, which killed 130 people. I was on the phone till the early hours of the morning with a journalist friend in Paris getting an eyewitness report. The city was stunned. Paris as a symbol of romance, art, civilisation worldwide was on its knees. Young people were jolted globally. It could have been them at the concert. It could have been their parents at the restaurant. If Paris could be attacked, then nowhere in the world was safe. For a few days and weeks the world watched to see if Paris was crushed. What did France do?

The first thing they did was take in thousands of Syrian refugees, the very people some were unfairly blaming for the attacks in the first place. Instead of vengeance there was kindness. But there was also an immediate reaction to terror. The French President did what the US was unable to achieve in six years, attack the source of funds for the IS, its oil fields, while minimizing casualties. Fears of more attacks were unrealised.

The flame of terror was put out with compassion for the refugees; an unforgiving strike against the terrorists with warfare, and a resumption of the pursuit of civility. The French demonstrated they were not giving in to bullying or terror. It was a public lesson that struck at the deepest core of the individual.

Confidence was restored in freedom and a democratic way of life. Back home in Trinidad, on Boxing Day 2015, 33-year-old Kyle Gonsalves drowned off the north coast, Blanchisseuse. In this day of social media we saw almost minute by minute the anguish of the family on Facebook, the call for coastguard, fishermen, helicopters, good citizens to search for a man who clearly loved the ocean, who posed for wedding pictures with waves lapping at his pristine trousers, the sand bordering his brides’ gown. It’s a treacherous thing, the ocean. Love it as you will, it will swallow you like the monsters of the deep. When his body was found I thought, that’s it, they will not go back to the sea again.

A day later, I saw an astonishing sight on social media. All of Kyle Gonzalves friends and family in the ocean, forming a circle—of prayer, love or remembrance, of ultimately raging against the dying of the light. They were back in the ocean, holding hands in a wide circle, children, the elderly, those in the prime of their lives, and those who refused to let their grief drown them. We sometimes think if our worst fears come true we won’t be able to go on. But we do.

The third came in minutiae. In the form of a kind of grace. When sports commentator Mel McLaughlin interviewed West Indies captain Chris Gayle on smashing a 15-ball 41 for the Melbourne Renegades in a Big Bash League match against the Hobart Hurricanes, he leered at her, propositioned her for a post match drink, and objectified her “Don’t blush baby,” belittling her professional capacity. His apology was weak with excuses as he negated it saying it was a joke blown out of proportion. What was heartening was that his club, mainly made up of men, fined him some US$7,000 for his remarks to the Australian Ten reporter, and he has been labelled as ‘creepy’. West Indians are furious and many are crying race at the worldwide shaming of Chris Gayle. But it raises awareness in our islands where women, especially intelligent women who are pros at their jobs, are subject to harassment intended to be a put down. It’s less about being complemented and more about being signaled to keep our place. When faced with an intelligent professional woman, chauvinist men often deal with their insecurities by objectifying the woman.

We’ve learned in these small islands with few options to shrug it off, to call it a joke. By being called out by his peers, enlightened men worldwide are showing West Indian men it’s not okay. Mel McLaughlin could have made the story about her. Instead, she accepted Gayle’s half-hearted apology and moved on. She spoke for all women in all professions when she said she wished he could have focused on cricket, since they both respected and were passionate about the game. Thousands of women must have wanted to hug her for that.

In each of these cases, it was us flawed, hurt humans determined to see the good in the world, fighting for it when it would have been easy to feel defeated by terror, nature or powerful men. The unexpected monumental human spirit is the other side of the coin of the inevitable trials of being human.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur