André Wright, Opinion Editor
No, it's not a duppy story. But the dead do speak, if you listen hard enough. So often we accept that once we conduct the funeral rites, cremating the remains or burying them in an immaculate coffin, it signals an end of an era. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. End of story.
But sometimes that's when the duppies really start knocking on your door. Not literally, of course, but death makes you reflect on the memories and words of wisdom of loved ones, and sometimes, just sometimes, those memories inspire you to build on their legacy.
The dead who speak loudest tend to be those extraordinary ordinary Jamaicans who weren't the toast of the social circles but shone a light in their small corner.
The Rev Allan Joseph Whittaker was hardly the type of preacher you'd invite to deliver the sermon at a National Leadership Prayer Breakfast. That's the stage for pastors with strategic tact and eloquence. Whittaker was a straight talker: you had to either take it or take it. He wasn't just rough around the edges; he was rough through and through.
Fedlyn Beason, a veteran preacher, knows that only too well. At Whittaker's recent funeral, Beason recalled when he had invited Whittaker, his mentor, to help him raise funds at a church rally decades ago. Now anyone who's been to church rallies in Pentecostal circles knows it's a singathon involving as many soloists or choirs who will contribute, as well as raise, donations throughout the service. This is not 'the time and place' for deliverance ministry and tear-jerking testimonies. But 'Ball o' Fire' wasn't accommodating of such protocol.
Whittaker, an old-time seer, started to encircle two women, speaking in tongues, and made the ceremony a bit, well, awkward. Beason intervened and asked him to get a hold of himself. Whittaker's retort was that he was there to do God's business and "cut the [impending] disaster". He handed the host the programme and stormed out, warning, "Yuh will see!"
The long and short of it is that the following morning, one of the two women, Pamela Woodstock, was struck dead by a motor vehicle. Beason was filled with regret; Whittaker was vindicated.
Good example for the church at large
A.J. Whittaker's simple, unsophisticated life was a narrative of which the modern Church should take note. It told of the need for the Church to focus on its rescue mission for humanity: evangelising, truth-telling, repairing broken souls and broken bodies. Ball o' Fire was also intent on doing something the modern Church isn't fired up about: fixing itself before trying to fix everybody else's business. So caught up with being society's voice of morality, the clergy and laity, too often, call others to action without showing leadership on their own front.
As I see it, while the Church calls for transparency in political governance, it is less vociferous in demanding that all denominations open their books to independent auditors. While calling for access to information, the Church is less open about declaring the salaries, tax payments and assets of its clergy to its membership. Nor does the Church adequately tackle clergy who use members' donations to the denomination to fund private enterprise.
While advocating thrift and wise saving among the laity, clerics are busy pretending they've got financial competence and thus fritter away billions of dollars of members' funds in ill-conceived investment schemes. And instead of being the model of sexual purity, the Church has been slow and reluctant in weeding out paedophile or 'gyallis' clergy who impugn its reputation.
A.J. Whittaker advocated that we should 'talk di tings': brutal honesty was always better than duplicity. And after the fallout, he emphasised that restoring human dignity and seeking reconciliation were the ultimate goals.
You may have heard of Marion Dyer. But then again, you probably haven't. For she was an extraordinary ordinary person, too. In her actions, not speeches, she taught me about the humanity of animals. Yes, those dogs you kick and stone do have humanity.
I wasn't always struck with puppy love, however. I remember in the 1980s, as a prep-schooler and disciple of the GI Joe cartoon series, when I realised that every dog has his day (of torture). Having saved up some lunch money and purchased GI Joe toy soldiers, I was devastated to find one of my men of valour dismantled by our drooling mutt.
There lay a dismembered Duke, my field commander, his legs and waistline ripped off by a canine which proved a worse enemy than Cobra. I was livid. It was time for judgement. So that afternoon I chased the dog round and round the house with a broomstick, whacking him with evil zeal, each yelp a vindication of revenge.
A few years later, one of our gallivanting dogs bolted on to the road when Mum opened the gate to drive in. Of course, this dog only did that to Mum because he knew that she was a soft target - all love and no discipline. Then Mum summoned me to clean up her mess and go catch him. So there I was chasing the dog along our community street. Fed up with the inconvenience, I swung a broomstick at him. It missed, but as the broom hit the asphalt, a flying splinter slashed me above my eyelid. I still wear that battle scar.
But Miss Tiny, as Marion Dyer was affectionately called, taught me that dogs were to be respected, loved and cherished, a lesson Mum tried to drill into me as well. Miss Tiny had a chronic case of puppy love, so much so that she would cook pots and pots of rice and peas and chicken (not chicken back!) for her dogs, one of which she adopted from us. She would bathe her dogs with love, talk to them as peers, and treat them as family.
She made me realise that dogs were just like us humans - and perhaps better. And maybe she was right. Because no matter how much your son or daughter loves you, and no matter how much love and money (is there a difference?) you shower on your spouse, they'll never dutifully greet you at the front gate every day with a smile (or a wag). Family will never UNCEASINGLY show you the affection and appreciation of a dog which rubs its neck on your leg; or exhibit gratitude for a massage with your crusty toes that everyone else shuns; or dance and prance with you on impulse.
A.J. Whittaker and Marion Dyer, both laid to rest in December 2012, proved that every nobody was a somebody - man or beast. Hopefully, the dead will speak to you, too.
Andre Wright is the Gleaner's Opinion Editor. Please email feedback to email@example.com.