WITH this year’s Nobel Laureate Week coming to its close this Saturday, I cannot help but be grateful for the high bar of excellence set by our laureates, Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott. No Saint Lucian worth their patriotism can deny that both Sir Arthur and Walcott have impacted his or her life in a meaningful way.
Over the past week and a half since the NLW calendar was officially launched, I found myself reflecting on my own personal journey – both in terms of geography and time. It’s sort of a ritual whenever Nobel Laureate Week and Independence come around for me to do a bit of introspection. Images of my youthful teenage years when I first came to Saint Lucia from Guyana at 18 remain as vivid as a Walcott metaphor and priceless as one of Sir Arthur’s theories.
Walking into Valmont’s Book Salon within a week of my landing in my Fair Helen for the first time, I had absolutely no beforehand knowledge that the man whose poems I answered questions to in English B class back in my secondary school years had his navel string planted right here in Fair Helen. I remember that 18-year-old me standing there, dumbfounded at finding out that my mother had made the right decision to relocate here.
Admittedly, reading Walcott’s work – and later Sir Arthur’s – proved challenging to me. So I found myself reading sentences and paragraphs over and over again, trying to get it. For those of you who ever tried reading Walcott’s “What The Twilight Says”, I’m sure you can relate. Those essays are a killer. But beyond the obvious big words one had to circumvent with a dictionary nearby were beautifully-crafted words that spoke about life, love and other things we often take for granted.
Through Walcott and Sir Arthur’s works and love for their country, I was able to fall in love with Saint Lucia. Not that other people haven’t assisted me in doing so. But what’s striking about those two men is that whenever I travel abroad and tell people that I’m from Saint Lucia, those two names are often the next few words that pop out of their mouths. You feel me? That’s the kind of pride you cannot put down for even a second.
Watching the tears roll down Walcott’s face last Sunday afternoon as he witnessed the doors to his newly-rehabilitated childhood home swing open with freshness, it brought me back to turning the pages of his “Selected Poetry” many years ago albeit having the vaguest clue of differentiating his metaphors from his similes.
Those newly-opened doors seemed a ripe metaphor for the teenage version of me coming to a new country and hoping that people accepted me despite my strange accent. Twenty-four years later, I can say they have. In fact, it seemed like déjà vu, as if Walcott was inviting me into his home yet again.
For as long as I can remember, I have always had a close relationship with words. Words were what put me to sleep at nights as a boy when my brother, Brian, and I would literally beg our mother to tell us stories. She did a beautiful job at it, too, especially when she dramatized the words for effect.
But it’s Walcott, really, who got me to thinking that words can become a person’s bread and butter. People like Kendel Hippolyte, Adrian Augier et al were those who reinforced in me that it was achievable by giving me guidelines and invaluable advice along the way. Today I get to use words to not only make a living but write a small chapter of our collective Saint Lucian history by telling our stories.
We live in a world where people are often reluctant to say they’re sorry. Saying ‘thank-you’ is even harder. But while Sir Arthur would have departed this life just four months before I would have called his Saint Lucia my home, I make no apologies for being thankful to him as I am to Walcott for inspiring Saint Lucians like me to strive for excellence. We might not always get it right, but the passion to persevere nonetheless should continue to fire us up.
The way I see it, what Sir Arthur and Walcott have shown us is that despite whatever else happens, Saint Lucians can build on the positives that have been and continue to make us shine far beyond our shores. They have proven that small-islanders can dream big and do things even bigger.
I would not dare list here the opportunities that following my Saint Lucian dream has netted me thus far. What I can say, though, is that I cannot say for certain that I would have been inspired by another country’s Nobel Laureate to want to do great thing. Except, of course, Nelson Mandela or Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I feel more connected to Sir Arthur and Walcott, though, because I get to walk down streets they walked and meet many people whose lives they have impacted in a positive way. And for this I proudly say, thank you, Sir Arthur and Derek, for teaching us about life, love and other things we take for granted.