Embracing our Sir Garry
Last Thursday. July 28. Sir Garfield Sobers’ birthday.
And we made a little fuss.
But not bosom-swelling, goose-pimpled fuss.
We were not caught up in jaw-dropping awe or fellow-feeling giddiness at the excellence of one of us.
Oh, sure, we got the stats and the factoids: he hit six sixes in one over; he held the highest Test score (365 not out) for 26 years; he bowled in three styles – and all the rest of it.
It is as if Sergeant Joe Friday had swept us up in his dragnet and cautioned, “Just the facts.”
That’s a big problem. Plain facts cannot communicate anxiety, passion, glory. And they can’t stimulate delight, awe, pride, affinity.
Now, our nation has decided – philosophically, formally – that we must have heroes. But identifying certain people as heroes, National or otherwise, does not mean that the citizens have heroes. Your heroes are those whom you know vicariously, whose exploits you drink in, into whose lives you have soul-entered, with whom you have developed heart kinship.
You can’t accomplish that through the sharing of facts. Nor can it be achieved by erecting statues or naming buildings or roundabouts or roads or with lectures or honourings or commemorations.
These, of course, have their place.
But how is Sir Garfield – along with deserving others – to live now and in the future in our hearts?
How was it that Sir Donald Bradman so seeped into the marrow of Australian cricketers that in 2001, when news of his death descended on them in India, these big men who had never actually seen him bat, most of whom had never even met him, seemed shell-shocked, grief etched on their faces – for someone who was neither family nor friend?
Not by speeches, analyses, histories – for these are bereft of the power to emote. And not by artistic works that cover the sweep of a life – because not every corner of an individual’s life has the stuffing to affect.
For that we need crafted stories of single critical episodes, “slow-motion” unravellings of real life incidents, short tellings of moments of glory, moments of character – that grab us by the senses, by the sensibilities and catch us up into this person or that one.
Short “stories”. Short docudramas. Songs.
Live narrations. All of which should be popularized year in and year out.
But our literary writers have been hung out to dry.
The television station would require a transmutation.
And our songwriters apparently don’t value capturing life and creating vicarious experience – have you ever realized that in most of our own popular songs (these days that means calypsos) there are no people as such, people-in-experience, caught in the midst of heartache or joy or the in-betweenness, the tensions, the crises, the realness of real life?
Of course, you may encounter an ass. I say, let my people in.
Edwin Yearwood’s Obadele didn’t do it. And The Greatest, sung by the same artiste at the original unveiling of the statue of Sir Garry, let other people’s people in.
Story, available to do so much heart work – it has, as Susan Perrow says, a power to touch our souls. And yet our song artists, who should be in the forefront because they dominate the “art” landscape, have virtually abandoned it.
Is true: it is much easier to pontificate or draw out a cheap laugh or trivialize the alarming or induce a wuk-up than it is to profoundly emote.
So, can the day be saved for our Sir Garry and others? We must do more than remember them.
Do we really have the stomach for such intimacy, such artistry?
Whatever the answers, if I were in charge of programming at a radio station or at CBCTV8, I would quickly get Wes Hall, Peter Lashley, Rawle Brancker and others to retell moments in the cricketing life of Sir Garfield. And frequently replay their tales.
As for me, I continue to hope that our artistes and artists will poignantly connect us to our people – both the ordinary and the great.