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Rescuing hope from despair

By Sunity Maharaj

Tears and the blood of children drip over these days of adoration of that child born in a manger over two thousand years ago.

Friday, the tenth day of Christmas, was particularly brutal for little innocents.

Here in Trinidad, two week-old Phylicia turned stone cold, dead from suspected blunt trauma to the back of the head.

It was the second day of tragedy in Pitchery Lane in East Dry River, Port of Spain which had come to national prominence just a few days before with the horrific news about baby Jinayah, just five days old, her cheek and thigh ripped apart by deranged human teeth.

In the United States and China, tragedy was scaled to size. Twenty little ones murdered in Connecticut; 22 stabbed in Henan province in China.

While the rest of us may be intrigued by the Mayan end of the world purportedly around the corner, for these babies, the world into which they were born has already ended.

In trying to make sense of such horror, it helps to remember that those inflicting such violence were once innocents too, born with the promise of all children but fated to futures designed by societies in trouble. Not that trouble is new to us. We have always been in one kind of trouble or another. By certain yardsticks, we might even find that we have been, from time to time, in worse trouble. But these random acts of violence, born out of uncontrolled rage in our case, and soul-numbing control in mass slaughter American style, speak of a different kind of trouble.

It is the trouble that rises from incoherent, dysfunctional societies afflicted by the modern disease of alienated individuals, cast adrift by the collapse of old systems and conventions that once provided communal succour, supervision and protection.

Today, unchecked by community management and social control, and drifting in this republic of anything goes, everyone, from leaders down, are free to give rein to uninhibited impulse. Like inventing reality to suit purpose or biting off a baby's cheek just because we're vex!

It wasn't supposed to be so.

Fifty years after Independence, finally in charge of our future, we were destiny's children, a rising light in the west, committed to creating a new world of one out of many. In the bones of our soul, where GDP doesn't count, we know we haven't succeeded. Yet.

For the generation that had come of age in the movement into Independence, fear of failure is the issue of the time.

Every generation has its patriots; but the Independence generation had more passion than most in pledging to country.

As the first generation of sovereign Trinidad and Tobago to be summoned to the task of nation-building, the fires of hope burned in their breast: public servants, professionals, labourers, artists, business people, adventurers, scientists, home-makers, politicians. Even those filled with ethnic anxiety waved their little flags, caught up in the potential of possibility.

Today, this generation is on the other side of life, looking back on lives lived, choices made, wishes wanted, assumptions held. Exhausted by lifelong effort and dismayed by the distance from the goals and unfulfilled dreams, they calculate the return on the investment of hope and wonder whether it was all worth it.

In truth, there could be no greater day of reckoning than the day one weighs one's own life, hefting decisions, subtracting pain from joy and dividing passion by reason. Perhaps the side on which the scale of life tilts depends on the day we choose to step on it.

These days of blood and tears are not good days for weighing one's life. Nor will days of division multiply our reward. But, still, we need to be gentle in our assessment.

History suggests that the vein in which change flows survives largely because it is unseen and unsuspected. Were it otherwise, it might not survive. The cliché that it is darkest before the dawn exists because it is so often true. In despairing of the value of our efforts, and assessing our life's worth on the basis of whether it turns our way or not, we must be careful not to rob our children of hope, paralyse the future with cynicism and deny the youth of their power to change the world.

Every child comes with a promise of the possibility for a better future, bringing new blood and fresh energy to its cause. It is gut-wrenching to know that they will not all make it into that future, and chilling to think that many will fall to the evils of human hands. But such horror merely points to the work still to be done.

We have a nation to build.

There is no time to be wasted on recrimination, self-pity or useless distraction. To the last breath, we need all hands and minds on deck.

Here in T&T, we are always flirting with the dance of death, easy to co-opt in grinding our heels into the old pains inflicted on this piece of earth. But that was a different place, and another time. Trinidad and Tobago is now ours, waiting to be shaped in our own image and likeness. Who will we prove ourselves to be? Which aspect of ourselves will define the republic?

Our salvation rests, ultimately, in building a society that protects the vulnerable, unites the divided, guides its leaders, supports dreams, nurtures ideas and takes care of its needs.

To this task, our Independence generation has given generously of everything they have. We need to thank and honour them and, looking them squarely in the eye, offer the assurance that their work will go on, lessons will be learned even if mistakes will still happen. Having run much of the course, they must know that the baton will be secure for generations to come.

And as the new little ones come, let's keep one eye out for each of them, hold them a little closer and love them a little dearer.

In adoration of that other child born in a manger, let's commit to making every child our own.

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