“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
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
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.