By the Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell, CM
MARK Twain wrote a story called “The Great Catastrophe”. It concerns a group of people who get trapped in a tragic situation. They are doomed to die. They have no way to escape. They are, indeed, on the verge of a terrible catastrophe.
Mark Twain didn’t want the story to end unhappily. But he didn’t see how he could save the people. It was like having them trapped in a plane that was seconds away from crashing into a mountainside.
And so, Mark Twain concluded his story with these two sentences: “I have these characters in such a fix that I cannot get them out of it. Anyone who thinks he can is welcome to try.”
In one sense, that’s an unfair ending. But in another sense, it’s a good ending. It makes you think, it makes you get involved. For example, suppose there was a plane about to crash into a mountainside. How would you have the passengers try to save themselves? What would you do to try to save yourself if you were a passenger on that plane?
In the early 1970s, we found ourselves in a similar situation. The drug trade was spreading like wildfire, well into the eighties, nineties and even today. The nation was trapped. There was no way we could save ourselves. I was a young teenager, just arrived from Cat Island and plunged into New Providence, a student at Harold Road (now AF Adderley) High School. Break time and lunch time some of the male students would be crossing Blue Hill Road into bushes, where Town Centre Mall now stands. I thought it strange that they would be taking to the bush seeing that the plumbing was working perfectly in the school’s bathrooms. I was invited to join this exodus to the bushes, innocent island boy, I was. Then I was ordered to stay in the clearance of the shrubs and clap or whistle if anyone approached. I was the look-out man and didn’t know it. This plot was soon uncovered by a female prefect who had us reported to Mr Hugh Campbell, the principal. After due diligence, the cane talked a language every culprit clearly understood. It had only just begun.
Prime Minister Lynden Pindling said, way back then: “Bahamians are playing a game they don’t understand; in the process many will die.”
Truer words have never been spoken. Hundreds of lives have hit the dust, proving true to this prophecy over these many years. Does it continue, does the drug business continue unabated? Is drugs the fuel that continue to energise our domestic ills? What is the relationship to gangs and the destruction of our ethical standards in our national quest to get rich quickly at any cost. How is this influencing tribal warfare? Indeed, as we think on drugs as a monster devouring our moral life, then all must be honest with its elder sibling, alcohol. Many Bahamians have ascended the totem pole of richness and respectability from the days of bootlegging and rum-running. They have infiltrated life at every level of society, especially political life and we are to call them honourable today. We can go further back to piracy, shipwrecking and even slavery. The Bahamas has thrived on acts of nefarious characters all though the ages. Any wonder why Cat Island is still called and known by the name of one of the most evil pirates known in history, Arthur Catt. We have elevated so many corrupt characters as heroes of our land. We so quietly do this even in modern-day society.
Our National Honours system was born out of a desire to rescue real role models out of obscurity and elevate as heroes, those on whose shoulders we really stand. I had great hopes that our university, our lead tertiary, institution would lead the way in researching and documenting the real history of our land. Too much is hidden and needs excavation. We have been the recipients of evil from the dark ages of history. Many English Governors and Generals came to us and exploited and plundered and we call them heroes. Any wonder Christopher Columbus could remain in statue form over us for so many years while progressive Caribbean nations are taking down statues of their exploiters, slave masters, masters of genocide. We are a brain-washed people in believing, even now, that all things foreign are better. Even to this day Bahamians, out there, might very well venerate a foreign – white priest to a locally grown one from Crooked Island. We are indeed still in a catastrophe.
If Mark Twain had been alive, he would have summed up the situation the same way he summed up his story: “These people are in such a fix that I cannot get them out of it. Anyone who thinks he can is welcome to try.”
I have great hope that our New Day government can emancipate us out of this tragic situation. There must be a way to save us in our mental and social dilemma. We are in a mental bondage; we want to be independent and British at the same time. We want to be free, yet we enjoy the chains that are holding us captive. We say we want local leaders, yet we crown the foreign whites as lord superior. We say we are Christians yet enjoy ancient corrupt practices be they drugs, alcohol, and modern-day piracy. When do we implement the true tenants of our Christian faith of trust in an all adventurous God who calls us to walk boldly with Him into the unknown.
Years ago, there was a thought–provoking Peanuts cartoon. The first picture of the cartoon shows Charlie Brown staring at a toolbox, saying to himself, “I can’t do it! I can’t do it.”
The second picture shows Lucy entering and saying to Charlie, “What’s wrong, Charlie? You seem unhappy.”
The last picture has Charlie answer Lucy, “I am unhappy! I want to build a work bench, but I don’t have a work bench to build it on.”
The point of the cartoon – when we apply it to our Christian faith – is clear. God has provided us with a work bench upon which we can progressively do his work. A work bench of a great country with people, who properly led, has hope and aspiration of a New Day. God will not do for us that which can do for ourselves. The job of a New Day started at Emancipation in 1834 and it is incomplete, always, even having achieved Majority Rule and Independence. There is always an unfinished agenda. Every generation must achieve its planks or be deemed hopeless. God has given us a job to do in the ongoing advancement of this nation, currently we are slunking. It is obvious that we need to kick old habits, we must advance to Republic, we must turn our backs on the privy council, we must... We must press onward and stop kicking the can down the road. “Forward, Upward, Onward…but when?”
Our job in our country is to put into practice the fierce urgency of now. Not to stand idly, looking into space. Our job is to roll up our sleeves and get God’s work done. We are to use the work bench given to us by the master to:
Feed the hungry
Clothed the naked
Work for peace
Provide educational opportunities
Adequate housing for all
Feed the thirsty
Provide drinking water for all
Improve roadways and airports
And love one another therefore not to hurt with our bad habits
Yes, all this to address our social life, as well, but too, to do some heavy lifting and take our country into the era that beckons a new Bahamas, that new destiny where progressive countries with progressive people will dwell as truly free and sovereign.
Let us close with a prayer:
God our father,
Your Son became one of us.
He saved us from the terrible catastrophe
To which the world was doomed.
He built for us a work bench -
The Commonwealth of The Bahamas
Upon which we are to build a newer world
A world of peace, love, and endless progress.
He will come again to judge us all, on how well we Love and tried to make this peace love and progress real. Lord give us Faith To Work through our catastrophe.
(Rev Canon S Sebastian Campbell hails from Arthur’s Town, Cat Island and presently serves as the Rector of St Gregory The Great, New Providence)