Front Porch | Person of the year 2019: repairers of the breach
Many of the residents of New Providence, who comprise the overwhelming bulk of our population, have never visited Abaco, the third most populous island in the Commonwealth, which physically dwarfs a considerably smaller New Providence.
For perspective, Lake Rosa on Great Inagua, also known as Lake Windsor, is the largest lake in the country, stretching 12 miles. The lake occupies approximately one-quarter of Great Inagua’s interior. Nearly half of the 21-mile New Providence would fit in Lake Rosa.
It was a memorable delight for this columnist a month before Hurricane Dorian struck to watch three very dear friends, two over 50 years of age, discover with fascination for the first time the natural and built landscape of the historic Abaco Cays, Marsh Harbour and parts of North and South Abaco.
They were discovering not only a part of the natural patrimony that is theirs, but also discovered a greater sense of national and cultural identity and a greater sense of the unifying ideal of One Bahamas.
The fragmented jagged limestone islands and their landscapes, peoples, accents and history that conjoin our Bahamas, collectively serve as a unifying source beyond creed, race or political affiliation.
By example, the brilliant kaleidoscope of varying blues and greens of the magical waters of the Exuma Cays, under threat from pollution and climate change, is a source of unity.
The dear friends on the Abaco adventure and sojourn also discovered how geographically small is New Providence after traveling for many hours by car, marveling at the land mass and the extensive pine barrens of the Abaco mainland.
Their reaction to Hurricane Dorian was different because Abaco was no longer foreign to their lived imagination. The journey fostered an indelible empathy.
Sadly, many residents of New Providence still do not fathom nor appreciate the devastation caused by one of the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded in the Atlantic.
Like coastal residents of U.S. cities and city dwellers in other countries, most Bahamians who live on New Providence fail to appreciate the aspirations and lives of Family Islanders.
There is breach of the imagination and of the heart and intellect of those who do not appreciate or yet understand the lives of fellow citizens who populate our country in communities from Andros to Long Island to MICAL.
The Ministry of Tourism did an exceptional and quick job relaying to the world that The Bahamas was open for business after Dorian ravaged Grand Bahama and Abaco. Many Bahamians are rightly annoyed that many around the world do not understand our archipelagic nature and many island destinations.
Yet, at some basic level, many Bahamians fail to appreciate the geography of possibilities and wonders in their own country. Many young people who have Family Island roots have never visited the birth islands of their parents and grandparents.
The Pulitzer Prize U.S. Native American poet and essayist Navarre Scott Momaday has written beautifully and extensively of how the natural landscape pervades and transforms the human soul and our sense of self and identity. The landscape roots and locates us.
Those on New Providence who have little visited or who scant appreciate the breathtaking natural landscape of our equally spectacular and fragile archipelago are often estranged from their own country.
We often tell tourists that Nassau and New Providence are not The Bahamas. Yet many of us live as if both of these constitute the fullest or best expression of our Commonwealth.
The landscape that constitutes the imagination of many of us are the high rises, the shopping malls and the chain hotels and restaurants of the United States of America in general and particularly the environs of South Florida.
The multi-storied and dizzying road networks of Florida pervade our consciousness. But few of us bear in our consciousness the wondrous natural beauty of Glass Windows Bridge in Eleuthera, captured in the breezy, refreshing and impressionistic water colors of the American painter Winslow Homer (1836–1910).
Homer captured the “bridge in its original state – a natural stone arch barely separating the Atlantic Ocean from the Bight of Eleuthera”.
The stone arch bridge connecting Eleuthera is gone, washed away by hurricanes, replaced over the ensuing, approximately 135 years, by human-made bridges also vulnerable to hurricanes, including over the last few decades.
Whether natural or human made, the Glass Window Bridge, sometimes referred to as the “Narrowest Place on Earth”, offers a breathtaking contrast between the deep blue and often raging waters of the Atlantic and the shallow, generally calm, alternatingly translucent and clear pale blue waters of the Bight.
One writer observed: “Occasionally, when a strong wave washes over the rocks, for a brief moment that separation disappears, and the two bodies of water shake hands.”
The bridge, in its state of repair and disrepair, is a master metaphor for our country. It is a metaphor of the promise and the fragility of our Bahamas and the perennial work of repairing the natural and human breaches that arise after the hurricanes or storms of our human making and those wrought by nature.
We are called by our religious traditions and by our citizenship to be repairers of breaches and the alienations which engender divisions.
In the Hebrew Scriptures the repairers of the breach are those who give witness to God’s love by helping us to acknowledge our transgressions and sins and our need for conversion.
Hurricane Dorian was an event of such magnitude that it featured prominently in many year-end reviews throughout the world, especially in news features on the global climate emergency.
When Dorian brutally struck Abaco it created a breach between Little Abaco and Great Abaco. After the bridge connecting the two land masses was destroyed, the Royal Dutch Navy constructed a makeshift structure to reconnect the communities.
A new more durable bridge will have to be built. The breach must be repaired in order to reconnect communities and to foster improved livelihoods.
Hurricane Dorian has exposed many breaches in need of recognition and repair, including: the existential threat of climate change; the deep divisions between Bahamians and Haitian migrants and people of Haitian descent; and the divide mostly on the part of those of us in New Providence, who are disconnected from the needs of the Family Islands.
There is an arrogance, an indifference, a self-absorption by many in New Providence who fail to recognize the broader promise of our other Family of Islands, and the reality that our better future is not mostly resident on a 21-by-seven urban center.
Archbishop Patrick Pinder, our first native Roman Catholic head, of whom many Bahamians are rightfully proud, has continued to grow as a pastoral and spiritual leader. He is a repairer of the breach.
After Hurricane Dorian, Archbishop Pinder visited affected areas on Abaco and Grand Bahama, offering aid and comfort and the resources of the Catholic Church at home and abroad, including the assistance of Catholic Relief Services.
Archbishop Pinder spoke on TV and in the pulpit on the urgency of treating with dignity and respect our Haitian brothers and sisters.
This past Sunday at the annual Red Mass, he delivered a plea for social justice and dialogue. He suggested ways that we might repair and heal the breaches Hurricane Dorian exposed. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, none of the daily newspapers gave prominence to his homily.
He preached: “It is not surprising that Hurricane Dorian and the challenges it brought remain very much on our minds. Let me stress this at the outset. The Lord did not visit Dorian upon The Bahamas in judgment and punishment.
“Instead, Dorian brought needful epiphanies to The Bahamas. That storm showed the world that climate change is not ‘fake news’. Climate change is real and more and more destructive, as human beings continue to degrade the integrity of the earth.
“To our common peril, we continue to pollute the land and destroy forests, wetlands and coasts to the detriment of all life on the planet. Pope Francis in his encyclical on the environment rightly calls this behavior ‘sin’. Of greatest importance, Dorian brought to light just how vulnerable our country is to climate change.
“We and all the natural world are bound by ties that cannot be broken. We are locked into sharing the same fate, unless we commit to bring about positive change.
“Pope Francis calls this oneness ‘an integral ecology’. When we mistreat nature, he says, we also mistreat human beings. At the same time, each creature has its own intrinsic value that must be respected.
“Dorian forced us to confront the inadequacy of our current defenses against the growing power of hurricanes. The raging seas and winds of September past, invaded and destroyed possessions, took lives — human and animal.”
The archbishop added: “Dorian has severely weakened the livelihood of affected communities. The rest of The Bahamas did not escape, however. The storm took a severe toll on the national budget and economy. Restoration and forward movement will tax them even more.
“This is a new moment for us as a nation. We must think anew and act anew as we undertake to restore the destruction on Abaco and Grand Bahama. Not to do so would prove us to be a nation of very slow learners.”
And Archbishop Pinder addressed another breach: “Furthermore, Dorian pulled the cover off this country’s most serious and stubborn social problem — unplanned and unregulated migration.”
Next week: part two of repairers of the breach.