By LENNOX FARRELL
After hosting his own TV show for 27 years, the Christian stand-up comedian, Steve Harvey, on his retirement said, “your career is what you are paid for; your calling is what you are made for … and tragic is that man who comes to die before he comes to know what he was made for”.
In considering the issue of ‘Black on Black violence’, while proper incomes earned from employment or self-employment by residents could lead to safer communities, would these also be communities that are wholesome; the residents honourable and compassionate? Therefore, to what extent does having only material benefits make us better or worse humans?
Among the ideas hoisted in considering the above are the following: the vast changes in ideas and technology which have occurred in our lifetime; who are we as humans in the process of being; and is the selfless pursuit of justice for those most in need, and least able to defend themselves, our eternal calling?
Having occupied a life fullsome and varied, I am more than persuaded that there is more to life than livelihood; much more to being human than our experiential senses of sight, smell, touch, etc. Or as one prescient Being summed it up, “the body is more than meat, and the life more than raiment”.
In today’s lingo, our bodies are formed from more than food, and our lives lived for more than clothing.
In today’s culture, someone my age might feel justifiably overwhelmed, and not a little lost in coming to grips with the changes which have occurred in the last seven decades. Among these, philosophical, social and otherwise, the changes most tactile have been technological.
To me, between my recalling my first television show seen – I Love Lucy – at the age of 18 in Morvant, the most patriotic village in Trinidad, and my living today with the breakthroughs of techno totems like the mobile Smartphone etc., leaves me with an immense sense of displacement; of definitely being somewhere, but not knowing for certain exactly where.
Given the vast and incomprehensible changes in technology, I feel as if mere months come and go laden sky-high with enough baggage to overwhelm decades; that I have somehow experienced several centuries of living, rather than the seven decades I know. While the familiar remains, it is unfamiliar. In my youth, for example, the accronym, ‘USB’, referred to the United States Border; a ‘browser’ was a cow.
And these are at the rear of the technological conga-line in what is now commonplace. More to the point, as then students in Port of Spain’s Osmond High School, we were exposed to some of the philosophical assessments and values of what being human entails. We were exposed to iconic ideas of what being human meant.
One of these ideas, from the Renaissance era was that ‘man is the measure of all things’. This was, in its time, revolutionary since the prevailing idea, sentiment and belief in what had been a clerical-driven era was of ‘God being the measure of all things’. In other words, the newer sentiment meant that everything of value began instead with being human.
A similar idea, stated in the Latin, ‘cogito ergo sum’, came from René Decartes, the 16th century French philosopher’s ‘I think, therefore I am.’ By comparison, today, according to one 21st century wit, this iconic statement, modernized is, ‘I-pad, therefore I am.’
Which brings me to the idea of changes in morality. How might these affect the lives of residents in violence-plagued communities who, with decent incomes, would have beaten the poverty and the violence traps?
My personal journey took me from Christian-believer to agnostic to Christian seeker-believer. The injustices I saw raised questions the church couldn’t or didn’t answer. It was a challenging time for my spouse, Joan. She and my sister, Lynn, prayed long-distance daily for me. It was in a biology lab, looking through an electron microscope, that I had an epiphany.
I was studying the organelle, mitochondria. Called the ‘cellular power plant’, the way in which this tiny creation functioned brought me to believe again in a Creator. I still do, four decades later. I still have questions, many I keep to myself. But I’ve never since ever doubted the presence and power of Divinity.
I know, too, given the miraculous intricacies of my body’s functioning, organs and systems, that the body I have is not mine; could not be mine. For want of a more apt description, it is on lease to me. I must therefore treat it, and those of others, with respect and consideration … even though I often fail.
This power and presence is what I truly believe is needed to make of Black communities, places of compassion and civility. Having material benefits may answer our physical needs. However, the answer to our spiritual needs, in my opinion, requires more than the material.
Which brings me back to Steve Harvey’s statement on the relationship between one’s career and one’s calling. Two individuals, in circumstances vastly different from each other, can provide some answers on these. One, was an American business magnate, investor, aviator, aerospace engineer, film-maker and philanthropist. In the 1970s, he was one of the wealthiest men alive. He is also remembered for his eccentric and reclusive lifestyle.
The other, also an American, was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In the 1960s, the son of a renowned preacher in the Ebenezer Baptist Church, after finishing his doctorate, but following the murder of 14-year-old Emmet Till, he became involved in the Civil Rights Movement. His guaranteed career as a preacher was surpassed by his calling as a ‘drum-major for justice’. Facing assassination, and with a wife and young children, he had no insurance. A colleague, realizing this, paid for Dr. King’s policy.
The other man, mentioned earlier, was Howard Hughes. He died a decade after Dr. King, secluded on his island in the Caribbean. According to a biographer, Ron Kistler – one of his bodyguards – Hughes passed his last days catching flies by hand; recording each day’s total. Dr. King changed the world! On the night before he was shot, he gave his own epitaph: ‘mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord …’
I think that the healing so needed in our communities will come concomitant with our uplifting the spiritual values of truth, righteousness, peace, love and non-violence. While I am a staunch Christian, I am not advocating that others believe as I do. Only that these values are also human values. They are the values most needed by those among us most at risk of being victims and/or perpetrators of this plague of violence. In the same way that the 19th century calling of our ancestors was to defeat slavery and emancipate a destiny for us; so, too, our 21st century calling is to emancipate our magnificent Black youth from low expectations, cynicism and defeat, and into hope, discipline and compassion.