Imagine the team that would be representing us in London if national Olympians were selected by the Cabinet! Right away, that quaint Olympic quest for elite excellence would have to go, levelled down to the lowest common denominator of family, friend, financier and fanatic—with due deference to racial ratio, gender balance and geographic distribution. Enough to fill a whole plane, one might add.
It might be laughable if this wasn't precisely the basis on which so many selections are made in the name of assembling a truly national representation of ourselves.
Happily, Olympic qualification criteria ensure that our contingent in London is drawn from the best athletes among us, men and women who have lived the loneliness of the long distance runner in the gruelling journey from the family backyard to the glorious centre stage at the apex of sporting endeavour.
In a land where fools are suffered more gladly than losers, they have learned to swallow their hurt in staying the course. Today, persistence and talent have taken them across the bridge to London.
Especially in their own country, our olympians know that everybody loves a winner. Not like in Jamaica, they add ruefully, where the runner that stumbles can expect a comforting pat and a consoling "Don't worry. Next time for sure."
Even as a work in progress, the Robert Dumas/SPORTT documentary Red, White and Black, the story of T&T's Olympic odyssey, captures the deep poignancy of the athlete's life lived in the cold shadows of anonymity–until lit up by a blaze of finish-line glory.
For Njisane Phillip's father, there were no words for the back story where the race had begun. Too much, too deep; only tears could speak.
But nothing could be more eloquent that the image of Hasely Crawford, our solitary reaper of Olympic gold, turning his back to the cameras, stealing a moment of quiet aloneness as the world roared behind him at the Montreal Olympics of 1976.
To this day, 36 years later, Hasely Crawford wears the mark of that long, lonely climb to Montreal. We who had discovered him only after Olympic gold, have never been able to find our way to him, creating an awkwardness between us and our living legend of the 100-metre.
Perhaps it is the dislocation that comes from winning under a common flag but living within a divided nation where the very concept of 'national' is open to question, challenge and debate.
While in London our athletes hoist a flag in the names of all of us, here at home the qualification criteria for selection to Team T&T remain elusive.
Who should make the pick? On what basis? Who is more entitled than whom?
From one perspective, the years 1962 and 2012 book-end a 50-year era which is defined by historic hurt and the righting of wrongs. Given our history, how else could it be? But as we step into the next 50, we should be troubled by the prevailing sense of disorientation and absence of a political compass to chart the way to a New World beyond the ruins.
In the current climate, the authorities recognise that nothing should be left to chance as every effort is made to ensure we get the best Independence celebration money can buy.
But what if we didn't have the millions? Without the commissioned celebration, what would tell us that here in this land, at this time, are a people cognisant of their shared journey, taking time to mark a golden moment, happy to give thanks and to embrace before continuing their journey?
Surely, among the 1.3 million there is an ocean of unmanufactured emotion waiting to be tapped, seeking permission to feel and to be told it is alright to feel love for this place of original pain. Who dares to trust it enough to give it a chance? Who has confidence enough to open the floodgates and let the people in?
There is a common thread to the debates of the day: the wrangling over the Carnival mandate, the protest over Emancipation funding, the debate over the appointment of the Central Bank Governor, the protest by the Re-Route lobby; the petition by West Trinidad residents, and so much else.
These are not signs of a country at war with itself; this is a country of interests anxious to speak, to be heard and to negotiate; a country thirsty for dialogue and longing for democracy but still bruised from the collapse of its most recent hopes.
And yet, in the face of this open plea for engagement, like the crying child shushed with a sweetie by an unconcerned adult, the response is to placate with the soothing balm of cool cash. Over and over, money is the solution proferred and money is the solution accepted, aborting the process of engagement.
After an early baptism, Minister of the Arts Lincoln Douglas could comfort himself with the knowledge that he now has nowhere left to go but up.
In the face of the opening volley, instinct should alert him to the need to step back, centre himself and try to read the temper of the times. If he focuses long enough, he might discover a point of entry into the enveloping babel where he might find one strand to begin pulling the pieces together in a single national conversation on identity.
This country needs to talk. And we all need to listen.
It was probably CLR James who said we went to Independence like celebrants to a funeral. There is no doubting that in 1962, for large sections of the national community, the lowering of the Union Jack and hoisting of the Red, White and Black was a moment of great anxiety and fear. Today, in one of the ironies of history, the anxieties are on the other foot.
Have we grown so little in 50 years that we cannot find the wisdom and empathy to walk in the shoes of the other in finding common ground for walking together into the future?
For a few dazzling moments in the coming weeks, our athletes will lift us above our weaknesses and insularities and carry us soaring into the Olympic stratosphere. If we could hold on to that feeling long enough, we might feel the love long enough to begin the conversation from the point of national possibility.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies