Thursday, December 8, 2011

Lessons from Prof

Communication is the interactive transference of shared meaning between intelligences. – Professor Winston Aggrey Brown, Jan. 15, 1941 – November 23, 2011

I have forgotten most of what I was taught at university, especially the heavy theoretical stuff and the information from those classes I only took for credits – there were quite a few of those. I have forgotten the names of most of the books and tomes I’ve read and used for research, except for the ones I connected with emotionally – i.e., a few literature novels. I have forgotten some things I should probably still remember, but I’m almost sure I will forget my own name before I forget the statement quoted above. This is the definition of communication given to us in our very first class as students of the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies, Mona, and if you ask any graduate of that noble Institute, from just about any year, to define communication, it is what they’ll say. Not just because it’s true, but because of the way Prof delivered it to us – he broke it down keyword  by keyword, making sure we understood not just the meaning of the word we were defining, but as communicators, our roles in the process. I’ll never forget it, even though I’ve forgotten the other definitions and terms he shared with us as well, even though the man himself will fade to the recesses of my mind, to be recalled only at CARIMAC reunions or on odd occasions.

I’ll soon forget most of the things that were said about him at his funeral today. The tributes were lovely, yes. Those of us who only knew him as Prof got to see other sides of him – scholar, athlete, father, husband, deep sea fisherman. But as I’ve done – perhaps subconsciously – at the few funerals I’ve attended, I listened most keenly for what the departed person’s family members had to say about them. And I will remember with a smile the anecdotes his son Sean shared, both funny and poignant. Prof was, above all, a family man. Now, I don’t know if I latch on to these kinds of details due to my own daddy issues (probably), but to me, this is what a person’s life should be defined by. One of the things Sean said that touched me deeply and brought me to tears was that his dad would often wonder why he and his brother weren’t as protective of their mother as they were of their younger sisters. He told us that they now realize that it’s because they didn’t have to take care of her because he already had that part covered. How many of us have people in our lives who do that for us? How many of us know that we have people like that in our lives and truly appreciate them?

I didn’t really know Prof, never interacted with him outside of greetings as we passed each other on campus, and that is my loss. Death always makes those of us left behind examine our own lives, and I did some soul searching as the tributes went on. I realized a couple things about myself and what I need to do and things I need to change. Sitting there amongst his family, friends, colleagues, CARIMAC students past and present, I wondered why I never spoke to him, never sought advice or direction from such a wellspring of information and knowledge as he – or most of my other lecturers, or family members, or people in general. No, it’s not that I feel I know everything; I don’t even know what it is, to be honest. I just don’t talk to people for conversation’s sake. I interview and write about people for a living, but outside of that, I don’t really talk to them. This is definitely something I must remedy, especially if I’m to be a novelist, as is my most cherished, bubble wrapped, mothballed dream.  I know without a doubt that I definitely have to begin writing that first book.

Funerals also always make me think about my grandmother, whom I lost at the beginning of first form. I still miss her like it was yesterday and I still cry for her and all we missed out on doing. She was everything to me and I want to honour her memory by writing her story. She often felt – and I now know she was – misunderstood, and even though I’ll never know all the details now, I have not forgotten a single one of those stories she told me as we’d lay in bed together after the lamp was turned out for the night. Never. I was too young then to understand the things unsaid in these recollections, but as I’ve grown, some things have dawned on me. She had her faults, as we all do, but I want to try to understand her myself, and share her with the world, because she was Superwoman to me. So I’ll have to start talking to her sister, who’ll remember her in her youth; to my mother, whose story is inextricably wrapped up in hers; to psychologists who can help me understand more about what drove her and what she was trying to outrun and anybody else who knew some facet of her, because my recollections alone won’t do.

Finally, I realized that what Prof did was use up all his talents, all his skills, all he possessed, to do his part in creating a better Caribbean reality. That’s what I want to do, what I MUST do – use up all the gifts and skills I’ve been blessed with, so that when my time comes to leave this earth (hopefully at a well advanced age, peacefully), I will look back at my life and have absolutely no regrets. No regrets about the things I did; none about the things I didn’t do. Those in the latter case are the hardest pill to swallow, trust me, as there are many things I wish I’d had the courage to do back in high school and college and even everyday life.

‘Shouldas’, ‘couldas’ and ‘wouldas’ should have no place in our lives. We should spend our days doing work we love, being with the people we love, striving to make our country and our world a better place. Like Erma Bombeck, who was apparently one of Prof’s favourite writers, we should all strive for this goal: “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, 'I used everything you gave me.” So, what will you do to begin?

- Originally published via Facebook on Dec. 1, 2011

Image: Marcia Forbes

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