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Daniel Thwaites | Lamentation on North Street

Published:Sunday | September 25, 2016 | 9:00 AM

As a proponent of the view that there really is such a thing as 'mourning sickness', and that it has an ugly close cousin called 'grief porn', I would like to think of myself as high-mindedly immune to these things.

I think of mourning sickness as the recreational ostentatious grieving after celebrity deaths, and grief porn as the hijacking of other people's tragedies for use as an occasion for emotionally shallow and saccharine posts on social media.

These things, I contend, are the dollar-store version of religion, with conspicuous compassion as its chief emblem of sanctity, flowers and Facebook-tributes its sacred rites.

But how little we know of ourselves. Or rather, on reflection, not even that behaviour is completely alien to me. Because I was quite blindsided by sadness upon learning of the death of Dominic James, someone I have never met. And I have found myself greedily drinking up every bit of the story I can find. So I have joined the mourning throng for my fellow Georgian.

In the midst of all the other crises perching atop the nation, his death has caused us all to collectively pause. When you consider that the news reports are of unspeakable mayhem, of children being killed, it's remarkable that this one has cut so close. Yet it has.

 

THE SHOCK

 

I suppose that part of it is because it appeared so sudden and happened right in front of everyone, including his own father and in the glare of television cameras. Also, here was an athlete, who we think of as being in the prime of life and peak of physical health. Just moments before falling, he was smiling broadly and taking pictures with his teammates.

Adding to the shock is the sense that the Fates have plucked not just any young man from among us, but a special one. He was, clearly, a high-achieving leader. And though we slackers and underperformers like to comfort ourselves with other stories, the fact is that more tears will fall for the star and the captain. Young James was both.

Of course, I wish his parents whatever comfort they can possibly have at this time, although I freely admit that I can't imagine what that could be.

Perhaps it's because as a student at St George's, some of the first such sudden tragedies I can recall were the deaths of Dennis Ziadie and Jackie Bell and the drowning of a magnificent Manning Cup player I only knew as Littlejohn. These weren't people I knew so much as saw and admired, and the thought that worthwhile, vigorous men could just vanish filled me with dread. Actually, it still does.

Of course, this being a newspaper column, it's part of my job to complain about what went wrong here. It appears that a lot did.

For example, I would imagine that Dr Paul Wright is correct that there needs to be more and better medical screening.

Immediately following this terrible event, The Gleaner's headlines give a flavour of the discussions now going on.

'Health ministry meets with stakeholders to develop medical protocol for schoolboy football,' said one. 'Medical mandate - ISSA to ensure minimum therapeutic personnel present at all second-round matches,' said another.

Further, I learned from The Gleaner's editorial that ISSA does have a medical protocol:

"Schools should, at least, have a nurse present at the matches, and games played should be no more than 15 minutes from a medical facility. In later rounds, when there are fewer matches and games are under the direct management of ISSA, the association undertakes to have an ambulance on spot."

I'm trying to see and respect the efforts of the well-meaning officials here, but that there was not even a stretcher available for young James is, to my mind, scandalous. That his father had to rush him to the hospital is heartbreaking, but also tells me that it's not enough to have ambulances available only for later rounds of the competition.

It cannot help that there is no real ambulance service on the island generally. It's something we don't like to talk about because it will frighten the tourists, but like death itself, it hovers on the edge of the consciousness of all who are wise enough to feel vulnerable.

 

WHERE ARE THE AMBULANCES?

 

The sad fact is that if you drop dung inna Jamaica and need an ambulance fast, you need to have made private arrangements, have a good friend, or undahstan' seh yuh get sheg.

One more point. Anti-Catholicism is the last acceptable prejudice, and it is widespread because in much of the world, the Catholic Church is the most visible institutional bulwark against most modern sanctities and pieties, and thereby stubbornly enrages the conventional left and right.

While I was a student at St George's, which, mind you, isn't exactly yesterday, that anti-Catholicism was palpable, and the school was severely diminished because it was growing estranged from a robust embrace of St Ignatius of Loyola's charter. It was Ignatius who insisted that the embrace of critical thinking was not the enemy of faith, and insisted on 'cura personalis', the care of the whole person. So I hope that in the wake of this tragedy that the Ignatian mission will guide the College. It also happens, not coincidentally, to be the only avenue whereby any comfort may emerge from this devastation.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.