My favorite radio talk show host gave a deep sigh. It was a warm lunchtime in Jamaica, and the irritable blasts of taxi horns rose faintly to my office window. Uncertain clouds, bringing no rain, gathered over the bronzing hills (dry season setting in).
The talk show host had just listened to a dour tale of political partisanship, malevolence, and what Jamaicans call “bad mind” (this needs to be said in patois and not spelled out in “proper” English, really). The listener felt dispirited. The caller was intent on spelling out the details, when we felt we had already heard enough.
“Why is the world so ugly?”
And moved on to the next caller, her plaintive question (of course, unanswered) still hanging in the air.
The Petchary shook her head, as she took a sip of her after-lunch coffee.
What, indeed, is the purpose of this nasty streak that runs through life, that inexorable bad-mindedness that turns things sour, like a piece of chicken left out overnight in a warm kitchen? That overturns the brightest, most optimistic souls and taints the happiness of a young man who has just lost his best friend? Where does it come from?
Well, it just is. It is as much a part of life as the translucent glow of the rose-colored sunset sky this evening, ribbed with descending rows of dove-grey cloud.
We have to live with ugly. It’s just there.
In Jamaica, ugly is just around the corner, just like beauty. To use a horrible old cliche, this is “an island of contrasts.” And it isn’t hard to find ugly sights.
A dead dog in the middle of the road, its carcass gradually chopped apart by speeding drivers.
A heap of stinking garbage, with a goat in the middle of it, chewing a plastic bag.
The hotels – concrete monstrosities built by the Spanish – along our once-beautiful north coast, squatting by the sea, occasionally spewing out raw sewage onto their neighbors’ beaches.
And other sights I have seen during my years living on this island, many of which I would rather forget but which still flash into my mind…
The worn soles of a pair of trainers, on the feet of a young man who had just been shot in the head, lying on the street with a trickle of fresh blood starting.
A man grabbing and slapping a woman on the street, pulling her hair each time she tried to escape.
A camera shot I saw on TV this evening – a burnt and stained patch of flattened grass where the corpse of a man who had been chopped and beaten by a furious mob had recently lain. (Do children watch these TV reports, I wonder? What of our children?)
The picture is not a pretty one.
But what is really worse – and some of it is imbued in the above images of degradation and horror – is the ugliness of thought. That suspicious, petty, vengeful tone that you hear in the voices of some of the callers to the almost continuous radio talk shows in Jamaica. The voices are sometimes shrill, sometimes harsh – sometimes even sweet and persuasive – but they are all ugly. I know the patience of the talk show host (and by the way, I do wish there were more female talk show hosts?) is sorely tried, as she tries to infuse the discussion with some balance, and some fairness.
Ah, now President Obama talked about fairness in his State of the Union speech this week. Does all this ugliness somehow come from a distorted view of life – that it’s not fair, others have it better than me, why can’t I be happy and successful?
Well, one thing I firmly believe is that ugliness feeds on itself. The inner ugliness is far worse.
And it always shows on the outside.
How do you deal with it? You tell me. Please.
- Give Thanks (petchary.wordpress.com)