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Sundry reflections on death and dying

Every now and then, something revolting takes place in the world which causes everyone to engage in the most profound kind of reflection. Such was the case on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was murdered by a policeman named Derek Chauvin in the United States.

Much to everyone’s chagrin, an American couple named Ralph Hendry and Kathy Brandel allegedly met their demise on February 19, 2024, at the hands of three Grenadian citizens who escaped from police detention and commandeered the couple’s yacht.

Most human beings tend to dwell on the negative aspects of any situation and ignore the positive. But whether the victims of the alleged crime were black or white, yellow or blue, the torrent of empathy and sympathy that has gripped everyone is too palpable to ignore.

It comes as no surprise that Grenadians and friends of Grenadians are deeply concerned about the possible ramifications of such an occurrence. But philosophers have a saying: “One tree doth not a forest make.” And so, although the crime in question has given rise to worldwide opprobrium, it would be calumnious to suggest that such an event is characteristic of the Grenadian people.

When incidents involving people of different races occur, it is not uncommon for different sectors of society to evoke certain kinds of racial undertones. As the ongoing investigation seems to indicate, however, the bandits were driven to commit their ghastly acts by a desperate wish to evade the law. And so, they wantonly and randomly believed that the yacht offered them an ideal opportunity to do so. As the saying goes: “Desperate people do desperate things.”

It was a similar kind of randomness that aroused the ire of the Grenadian people some 50 years ago when a young lady was raped and killed by four men after attending a concert at the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School Auditorium. It had been well over a decade since anyone had been executed. However, given the randomness and ghastly nature of the crime, the Grenadian people cast aside all moral restraints, and three of the four rapists were hanged without the right to appeal.

Those of us who are old enough might recall standing on the shores of our beautiful, little island and gazing at the distant horizon as the cruise ship MV Bianca C, with approximately 700 passengers and crew on board, limped helplessly in the ocean as a fire raged through the hull. Without a second thought, the locals rushed to the rescue and opened their homes, hospitality centers, and institutions to the stranded foreigners (who were all white) at no cost for weeks. Such, therefore, is the true spirit of the Grenadian people.

Everything in the universe invariably goes through the cycle of birth and death. According to scientific sources, all of the planets and stars were born and will die at a certain point in time. Even Mother Earth, the moon, and the sun do not seem capable of defying their ultimate destiny. Galaxies, too, are slated to expire and fade into their respective black holes after swirling around for millions of light-years. Still, lest we become too disillusioned, human beings are among the longest-living species on earth.

According to biblical sources, there was a period in history when men and women lived well into their hundreds. The story is told of Methuselah who lived for 969 years. However, human beings have lost the ability to live such long lives. And so, those of us who succeed in making it to “three scores ten years” and beyond must be grateful. Interestingly, the tradition of mourning has given way to the celebration of life. And, although many grieving families are averse to holding a “Happy Hour”, the consensus suggests that the practice truly helps to find closure.

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Meanwhile, although the distinction is often drawn between the finality of death and the process of dying, everyone’s experience is hardly the same. Sometimes the process is short, sometimes it is long, and sometimes it’s unbearably longer.

It is comforting when a loved one transitions peacefully. But much to our consternation, dying is often painful. In the case of Ralph and Kathy, what makes matters worse is that no one knows whether whatever might have happened was brief or protracted, painful or painless.

Additionally, although most people are led to believe that the dead move on to “a better place”, the story of Lazarus raises serious questions as to whether his loved ones had acted in his best interest by causing him to return to this miserable life.

The Pharaohs had a completely different idea. And so, they had no compunction being interned with all of their cherished belongings; including their favourite servants and mistresses.

The American statesman Benjamin Franklyn is attributed to have said that: “In this world, there is nothing certain except death and taxes.” Still, the fundamental concern about death and dying is that no one has the right to intentionally terminate the life of another.

Above all else, although it is often said that the punishment should fit the crime, society should be held in utter contempt for reserving the right to deliberately and cold-bloodedly violate the principle of the sanctity of life by executing certain categories of offenders.

Rooted as it is in the assertion that “might is right,” the current judicial system which is predicated on the “Rule of Law” has failed to inculcate the kind of universal mindset that naturally senses the repugnance of someone taking another person’s life. (Needless to say, it was the very thought of possessing greater “might” that drove the 3 suspects to overpower the 2 “yachties”).

It might be concluded, therefore, that adherents of the Philosophy of Rastafari must be on the right track by subscribing to the teaching of His Imperial Majesty (HIM) Emperor Haile Selassie I which postulates that human conduct should be guided by the “Rule of International Morality” rather than the “Rule of Law”.

Popularly known as the “Golden Rule”, different versions of the principle have been taught by almost every great spiritual leader throughout history. The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, calls it the “Categorical Imperative”.

Suffice it to say that it is only by inculcating the type of mindset that conditions human beings to refrain from treating others in a manner in which they would not like to be treated that incidents like the one involving Ralph and Kathy would be permanently eradicated.

Keith Williams