“The only thing I know that truly heals people is unconditional love.” ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
Until my family moved to Jamaica, we did not have pets. Although, come to think of it, somehow I ended up being the guardian of a group of water snails. They were entrusted to my care by my teacher, and then, due to our impending adventure, I had to give them back. They probably would not have survived the journey. Soon after we arrived in Jamaica, we were the recipients of several pets. It is true that two of them were not intended to be pets: Reginald the rooster was actually supposed to be our Sunday dinner, and Henrietta the hen was supposed to provide us with eggs for breakfast! Due to our ignorance, I soon got to play with some cute fluffy chicks!
The black cat came to us as a solution to the noises coming from the ceiling. Every night my father climbed onto a chair and stuck him through the trap door to begin the night shift. Which actually meant that there were even more noises, scurrying footfalls, little squeaks and more! Until there were no noises and our cat had earned his keep. You may have noticed a trend: in Jamaica animals were not so much pets, as functioning members of society. Dogs lived in the yard, and if they were good they were bad, effectively deterring anyone who might want to sneak into your yard at night. In fact, a typical Jamaican greeting is to stand at the someone’s gate and yell: “Hole dawg!” (translation: Could you kindly restrain any dog that you might have who might want to come and attack me?).
The absence of dogs in my childhood home, and growing up seeing them as potentially lethal defenders has left in me a residual mistrust of them as pets. Cats require far less of you, and usually decide if you are going to be their pet, rather than vice versa. Yet dogs on the other hand appear to love those who care for them with an unreserved, unconditional, undemanding kind of love. It has taken me a while, but I can now appreciate (to a certain extent) that for many people their dog is a member of the family.
The word dog is peppered throughout the English language. In recent weeks we have heard a lot about ‘dog whistling’, rhetoric which uses words to signal messages supposedly only certain groups of listeners will hear. Unfortunately those who are sending these ‘subliminal’ messages seem to care so little about who they are harming that the words come across as claxons or sirens! What is disturbing is that after sprinkling words like ‘nationalist’ or ‘monkey-it-up’ into their speeches, these dog-whistlers then play innocent and wonder who could possibly read racism into their speeches? And those who are easily led trot after their leaders like mindless puppies trained to blindly follow orders. And hateful crimes and murderous attacks follow.
I am not a big-time sports fan, but when I watch I tend to root for the underdog. Unfortunately, when I have supported a team, they very often fall into that category! When I was in high school, our football (soccer to some!) team had a rival it could never beat. We would go season after season winning every other game, but never being able to beat Vere Tech to win the championship. In fact we never even scored against them! The year that we did manage to get one in the net was grounds for grand celebration! My high school was also divided into ‘houses’ to which you were assigned when you started school. The houses would compete against each other on Sports Day, as well as in football, netball and cricket. For many years my house (Harvey house) was known as the ‘bucket’ house – we came last so often! So I tend to have a particular affection for the teams who put their heart and soul into the competition even when they are rewarded time and time again by defeat. It was even difficult to get the athletes in our house who had talent to get out and perform for us, who wants to be the winning athlete in a losing team?
We are trained to look for happy endings, for the underdog to be successful in the end. Many British movies work around that theme, some of them may be based on a true story, but they all have a fairy-tale quality. ‘Bend it like Beckham’ is one such tale; or the boy who grew up in a mining town full of macho wrestlers and instead took ballet classes; or a brass band that wins a national competition even though all manner of ill-fortune conspire against them. Slum-dog millionaire was another one – it is such a wonderful feeling when the person who started with nothing ends up with the money and the girl and a troupe of brightly colored dancers performing on the platform of a train station. Who can resist those feel-good endings?
This week it was easy to feel depressed, hopeless, discouraged as we closely followed the stories of three classic underdogs who were not able (although perhaps we cannot close the curtain on the ending just yet) to clearly pull out their happy ending. I confess that it took a great effort on my part to look beyond the results in Florida (Georgia and Texas, but as a Floridian I was a little selfish) and see that all over the US there was success story upon success story: women of all colors and religions; people of all sexuality; everywhere there were historic ‘firsts’ for us to rejoice in. And the losses closer to home were still astounding successes in many ways. Reminders that we only lose when we fail to see the big picture and recognize that we are trending in the right direction.
This Friday morning I am remembering the architect of the first sweet success my high school football team enjoyed. Winston ‘Chungie’ Chung-Fah was a character; a vibrant, jolly, motivating, story-telling, talented football coach who changed lives. He slipped away this week, leaving thousands of lives changed for the better because of his impact. The entire extended family of Clarendon College is in mourning, and sends out loving thoughts to his wife and family.
Have a wonderful weekend Family! Rejoice in the positive always, and remember to stick to it with dogged determination!