THE AL GILKES COLUMN: The good die at all ages
I first came across the words “those whom the gods love die young” while studying Latin literature in Sixth Form at Harrison College.
It came from several ancient sources, including Roman playwright Plautus, who made his literary mark around the end of the third century BC and is an often quoted and still widely held to be true maxim.
I have never accepted this belief to be true for two reasons.
The first has to do with the fact that people like Plautus were only echoing earlier ideas from Ancient Greece, attributed to people like historian Herodotus.
Herodotus’ claim had to do with the fate of two young men who, with no oxen to pull a heavy carriage, decided to yoke themselves to it and haul their mother so she could attend a festival of the goddess Hera. The task was so strenuous that they died from the effort, which led Herodotus to write “The gods showed by this how it was far better for a man to die than to live”. In other words, the earlier you die, the better you are.
My second reason is that, unlike the likes of Plautus and Herodotus and the peoples of their times, I don’t believe in “gods”. Rather I believe in one God of pure love who would never condone or orchestrate such an evil act as causing the premature end of the life of such a person as our late Prime Minister David Thompson, or any other person for that matter.
Unfortunately, the belief in gods who deliberately cut down young people in the prime of their lives to demonstrate divine love did not die with Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome but filtered into and remained with Christianity right up to the present. As a result, rather than accept that accidents, diseases, earthquakes, tsunamis, other unnatural causes and natural disasters are what result in loved ones being taken – as the saying goes, before they lose their mothers’ features – we attribute their deaths to the will of God.
We see Plautus and Herodotus repeated in classical writers like Wordsworth, in whose works appears the statement “the good die first”.
Today we hear similar words being repeated over and over to provide some measure of solace in the moments of deepest grief over the untimely passing of a son, a daughter, a brother or a sister. However, in my book, God did not love my sister, who died suddenly just past the age of 30, any more than he loved my father who died at 92, nor than he loves my mother who will be 93 in another three weeks.
In my time, I have seen many great people plucked from life just as they were beginning to blossom. President Kennedy at 46, Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X and Che Guevara at 39, Otis Redding at 26 and Michael Jackson at 50, Steve Biko at 32 and Bruce Lee at 32, Princess Di and Bob Marley at 36, among hundreds and even thousands of others.
Today we mourn the passing of Prime Minister Thompson. Let us thank God that we able to share in his life, short as it was, rather than attribute his passing to a deliberate act of God.
With that I, join all Barbadians and other citizens of the world in extending deepest condolences to his wife and children, mother and father, brothers and other relatives.
David Thompson, may you rest in peace.
•Al Gilkes heads a public relations firm.