As St. Lucians and literature lovers from all around the world woke up yesterday to the sad news of the death of our hero, Sir Derek Walcott, I fell into deep contemplation, right along with sadness.
In the world of “celebrity” and fame, people naturally gravitate towards any sort of connection with the ones who interest them.
As if starving, we crave the knowledge of the slightest details of the lives and lifestyles of the rich and famous and will sometimes go to extremes to interact with them, say hello to them, touch them, be seen by them or to even catch a glimpse of them. Once that is done, we immortalise them in our memory vaults where we are ever too happy to revisit whenever the opportunity arises to speak about our encounter.
Bearing this in mind, what is one to do when their last memory of said celebrity is not a good one?
When I think of Derek Walcott, I don’t see a celebrity; I see an icon, a legend, a national hero and, naturally, knowing that he is no longer alive is saddening.
On the other hand, I am perplexed because my vault of Sir Derek is filled with a single memory that I wish I never had, but thankful that I do, because the depth of that vision teaches me that I needed to see what I saw so that it could continuously teach me a valuable lesson about my very own mortality and, perhaps, more importantly, about the value of each and every human life.
While the world will remember Sir Derek for his masterpieces like “A Far Cry From Africa”, “Dream on Monkey Mountain”, “Love After Love” (my favourite), “Omeros” and another favourite, “Ti Jean and His Brothers”, I will remember him for all that and then some.
It was the November 14, last as I sat nervously awaiting my name to be called for a medical procedure at one of the island’s hospitals when I heard am ambulance siren blaring. The closer it came, the more deafening the sound, then momentary silence.
The faces of the three other women and two men who sat in the waiting room with me were lit up with curiosity and then we heard the gurney’s wheels racing towards us.
As the EMT burst through the door, there lying passed out cold with his body and dignity exposed for all to see was Sir Derek, not the giant, but the frail and helpless 86-year-old human being.
As my knees buckled, forcing me to sit down, all I could mutter was a stunned “wow” for it was at that very moment I got the stark reminder that this great man was a human being just like me.
In that very moment, this Very Important Person, this Knight, this world-famous Nobel Laureate was at a lower point than “common little nobody”. I was better off than him with my health, age and abilities.
This man was fading right before my eyes and there were no bright lights and angel guards surrounding him; no, he was fading the same way I would fade, the same way the homeless guy on the street would fade.
He was human and inasmuch as I had always known that, it was different now that I saw it with my own two eyes. I now truly knew it.
As great as he was, just like all the other greats before him, death and time did not spare him.
They spare and answer to no one and just like I will go one day, he went and will end up in a 6-foot deep hole, just like I will, just like we all will. Again, even the homeless man on the street.
So while I am sad that we lost this great man, my last heart-breaking memory of him has taught me that in the end, we are all human beings, but if you insist on seeing him as a giant, then you should see yourself as a giant as well.
This sad but valuable memory has taught me that no one, including myself, is a “common little nobody”.
While I will continue to see Sir Derek Walcott as the great poet/playwright, literature god, Nobel Laureate, son of St. Lucia and giant, I will always also see him as Sir Derek Walcott, human being…just like me!