Amidst the disasters that lead to personal traumas and which bring national tragedy, there are the things that touch the core of the soul. They tell of what can be achieved when man rises from his knees and moves against the forces arrayed against him. There is nothing that is not worth doing; nothing that is undoable. There was this one awe-inspiring story (among many others) that towered against the raging winds and rushing waters of the countrywide tragedy that blasted and battered the Bahamas.
On September 5, the widely read New York Times carried a story that shared the courage and never-say-die attitude of one Bahamian survivor. What a survivor he is, as the caption testifies: “In Bahamas, a Blind Father Wades to Safety, His Disabled Son on His Shoulders.”
Fellow Guyanese are invited to experience the moment and reflect upon how much we could do, despite lifelong social, environmental, and national handicaps. To creep to that higher place of safety and from what weighs down and makes lesser men and women, a terribly lesser nation, of all of us.
The New York Times reported that, the roof had blown clean off. Outside, the ocean surged, swallowing the land. Brent Lowe knew he had to escape — and take his 24-year-old son, who has cerebral palsy and can’t walk, with him. But Mr. Lowe had another problem. He’s blind.
So he put his grown son on his shoulders, then stepped off his porch, he said. The swirling current outside came up to his chin. Clutching neighbours, he said he felt his way to the closest home still standing. It was five minutes — an eternity — away.
It is all there: limitations heaped upon limitations; great dangers that would make stronger men cower; and a blind man with water up to his chin and the weight of his world on his shoulders. There were also the helping hands of good neighbours; that’s what neighbours are for, the first families: the rope across the storms that imperil; the unwavering steel of shelter and sanctuary from those nearby, those lived with in fellowship for times just like these. And yet, despite these harrowing circumstances, there is this great story of struggle and survival, of reaching for and leaning against those who are there. Where are we these days in these things that were so much a part of us not too long ago?
Where are we as Guyanese when today we are threatened by not the wrath of nature run amok, but by the overpowering winds of contentiousness that trap us in sludge up to the chin, if not higher?
In the Bahamas, it is man and community and country against the raw power of frightening elements that align to drive facedown into the ground. They have nothing left, as Guyanese living there announce to the world. Yet amidst these incredibly superhuman challenges, there is self-sacrifice; belief; blind faith. Got to get there. Somehow. Must. Will. A blind man with a stricken son on his back showed the world what could be done. He showed us here in Guyana, too. We, who are so self-absorbed, self-satisfied, self-serving, and self-congratulating.
That blind man’s odyssey is but one among many, as the trickle of news gain body and frequency. The death count “could be staggering,” said Dr. Duane Sands, the minister of health, who updated the toll late Thursday. Some neighbourhoods have been reduced to rubble, almost entirely flattened by the storm. In others, 95 percent of homes have been damaged or destroyed (New York Times, September 5).
In a mainly tourist destination, this is a wrenching national disaster, inconsolable personal and societal horror. Unimaginable for us here, so consumed with our precious selves. We have our own manmade disasters. Politics, it is called.
Compliments of the New York Times, the fears and tensions over there come alive: “Blind Mr. Lowe said, the roof began to lift off, then slap back down. The group sought safety in the bathroom, where they huddled together and prayed, hoping for relief. Mr. Lowe’s son was nestled inside the bathtub, he said. That’s when the roof flew away.
“…each person had to step out into the storm. They clung to each other and set out to find refuge.” Where in the teeth of that force? The survival instinct. Higher ground. Any safe harbour. Any welcoming space.
“There are no words to convey the grief we feel for our fellow Bahamians in the Abacos and Grand Bahama,” Dionisio D’Aguilar, the tourism and aviation minister, said in a statement. “Now is the time to come together for our brothers and sisters in need, and help our country get back on its feet.”
Politicians compelled by the strength of circumstances to display rare public honesty and the equivalent compassion. What we need here. Help to get our heads clear, the poisons drained, the politics principled.
These Bahamians lost everything. Nonetheless, it is the home to which they cling, in which they seek comfort while surrounded by ruins that would make angels cry. “I have to go,” he said. “That’s where my family is. My kids are there, my brothers, my sisters, they’re all there.”
Incredible havoc has been wreaked: “90 percent of the houses are compromised,” he said.
Most likely this is unfathomable for us to contemplate, locked as we are in the cocoon of our own self-made tribulations and the tempests that come with them. This, too, could be unpalatable to digest, but this country has had it too good. Where we are so obese in vision, through sluggishness of mind and complacency of untroubled spirits that we simply batten down and batter each other. No sense. Nothing beyond the satisfactions flowing from wallowing in the hallucinations of the worst images of each other.
Perhaps, a blind man in the Bahamas may help us to view and review life itself, and what could be done in our passage through it. Difficult times are ahead. Guyanese had better learn from the ordeals of others.
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