Long, long time ago, back in the late sixties and early seventies, before any of young people, or even your parents, were just in the mind of the Creator, I observed with much distress, the dying of volunteerism in our beloved Bahama-land. It moved me so significantly, that I, actually, established in 1978, at the high school level, a program called “obligatory community hours, to qualify for graduation.” And today, thankfully, every high school in this nation has that as a prerequisite for earning a diploma.
Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Academy, which is now the amalgamation of Grand Bahama Catholic High and Mary, Star of the Sea Primary, has instituted an annual award in my name, to be bestowed upon the graduate with the highest and most outstanding community service hours. Last year’s award was given to a student who had accumulated two thousand plus hours. When the program was first established, I designated the minimum of 60 hours; however, many students over the years have far surpassed that in meaningful and compassionate service to their community.
It was. and still is, rather difficult to pin down with certainty the reasons for the dying of volunteerism back in the sixties and even up to this time in our history. For it is still a serious neglect at many levels of our communities today. I can, however, with some certainty blame much on the rapid rise of materialism, greed and an obvious rise of selfishness, marking that period. Prior to that time, there was a much greater concern for our fellowman to such an extent that not many among us were really in want. Of course, that period marked a rapid increase in drug trafficking, drug use and addiction, and the massive increase of tourism catapulted many of our citizens into a mode of living, where dog eat dog seemed to be the order of the day.
I give you that brief introduction simply to set the stage for what is taking place this evening.
You have assembled here to partake in the generosity of a group of ladies in an organization which is designated by the name PHILANTHROPHIC ( The American Women’s Club). Its focus is not really what “club” denotes, where they come to eat good food and drink expensive wine or celebrate their own greatness. No, rather, it is a “philanthropic” affair. Let’s take a look at that word. It is actually of Greek and Latin origin. It literally means love of people. So what? One can say we all basically love people.
However, inherent in that word is a multitude of meanings: Just to give a few: benevolence, generosity, humanitarianism, public-spiritedness, altruism, social conscience, social concern, charity, charitableness, brotherly love, fellow feeling, magnanimity, open-handedness, bountifulness, unselfishness, selflessness, humanity, kindness, kind-heartedness, big-heartedness, compassion, humaneness. In other words, one thirteen letter word that holds basically all the magnificent elements of the human spirit. I wish that you remember at least one third of those characteristics of LOVER OF HUMANITY.
Wow, one would say, are these ladies assembled here this evening dare to describe themselves in those magnificent and glowing terms? Well, I Joseph Lyle John Darville, originating from Long Island Bahamas, would at the instant vouch for them and would probably add even a few more adjectives to describe the magnitude of their selfless giving. Over the many year of their existence, and mine here on Grand Bahama, I have witnessed the incredible level of their love and dedication to the needy, the neglected and the less fortunate in our community. Only very recently, following the massive devastation of Hurricane Matthew, these ladies rallied their forces, opened even wider their benevolent hearts and extended their gracious hands, to relieve some of the extensive distress of residents in the most damaged areas on the island, namely West End, Eight Mile Rock, Lewis Yard and Pinders Point.
I personally experienced their outpouring of generosity, for I became the regular delivery boy with my vehicle and took truck-loads of desperately need items to these residents. Many had lost all of their earthly possessions. These ladies, along with the Canadian Women’s Club, another philanthropic organization, brought back a level of dignity to hundreds of residents, re-clothing them, feeding the hungry, and comforting those in great distress.
What an amazing example, my young people after whom you can model your own life and extend it into the hearts and needs of so many of our citizenry who are so much less fortunate than yourselves. I have hope, which I often today place in the realm of the youth of this nation, that we will once again become a people passionately concerned with the wellbeing of others.
You know, I had my lessons very young in my life, growing up as a young boy on Long Island. When my cousin and I went fishing, it was always our joy and delight to share our catch with all our neighbors, especially the old who could no longer fish or had no sons to do so for them. When we went at night at low tide on the reef with wooden torches on the north side of the island, crabbing for lobsters, if we caught three or four, the next day they were shared similarly. Out of season when the crabs, no longer crawled, and were hibernating deep in the rocky holes, we would chance to shove our bare hands down the holes to haul out enough for a meal, again shared with our neighbors.
We all had so little materially, but the gratefulness in our lives caused us to feel rich and prosperous, even while living in a thatched-roof two-room house, in which parents raised a family of ten children, and myself the grand. No electricity, no running water, no refrigerator, no washing machine, no paved roads, no phone, no vehicle, no bicycle, and the list of the absence of modern conveniences can go on and on. But yet we were as happy as I am today, for we always knew that the manna from heaven would somehow be there every day, even if the mail boat did not arrive.
As my grandmother would command, son, we have no “relish”, go out in the sound (the bay) and grub a few fish, or go “overback” in the hills and dig a few crabs to have with these lone grits. This was a regular event when the mail boat did not come, bringing a week’s supply of corned beef, sardines, tuna fish, etc., due to inclement weather. I must give a two stories here about grubbing fish and digging crabs. First digging crabs: one late afternoon when no mail boat came, my grandmother says boy go a dig a few crabs. Well that was hibernating time for the crabs; so I had to find a hole, normally covered with dirt and rocks; after finding four, I became a little greedy, noticing a nice hole which was bound to house a nice big crab; after digging now about a foot, clearing dirt and rocks, I gingerly inserted my had in the hole to withdraw the should be sleeping crab; but no, not that crab; it had awakened apparently from the noise of my digging, and was ready to lay hold of my forefinger. For at least two hours, I lay there taking may tries to free that finger; in the end when dark began to settle in, I made one last pull and left a good portion of the too of that finger with that darn crab. I carefully filled back the hole, came back the next day; and instead of my hand, I lowered down a nice juicy stick; and that crab laid hold of that so firmly I easily hauled it out of the hole; it was one of those really-pretty orange, red and black-black crabs. (Remember not all black crabs are just black!) To my dismay, however, it was a female and its apron was chuck full of eggs ready to hatch. I, blessed her, showed her my injured finger and gingerly lowered her back into the hole to finish her hibernation and supply the land with another crop of delicious little crabs. Today, I still carry the scar from her on my finger!
And now the art of grubbing fish. We go out into the sound /bay in little dingy, looking for holes in the mud or rocks; dive into the water, no goggles or any other form of swimming gear, carefully insert our hand and arm into the hole, praying there would be no big-eye John, moray eel or stone crab waiting to latch on to our finders; feeling carefully for the head, we haul out a tasty grunt, grey snapper, lane snapper, and sometime even a mutton fish or turbot. Those were the days of real hunting, no weapons just bare fingers, hands and arms!
Again my journey into the world of caring for others began at an age much younger than you are. Coming from schools each afternoon, it was my simple, but oh so fulfilling task to rethread the needles of half bling old people, who waited just for me to “oblige.” I got the impression some of them intentionally unthreaded their sewing needles just to give me the honor to rethread. Those are just a few of the simple but profound acts and experiences in my youth which trained my heart to become philanthropic similar to these lovely ladies.
This sense of otherness, kindness to all human beings, comes from the realization that there is always sufficient abundance for all mankind. These ladies have aligned themselves with that universal abundance and thus their desire to always share. Even these lands of ours and the energy of Mother Earth should give us that natural impulse to share. The first people, the original inhabitants of these islands had that closeness and reverence for the islands of their home.
They, the indigenous, first peoples of these islands, what we label as Indians, and sometimes, even as savages were gentle, kind and gracious. The savages actually came from abroad and literally wiped out a whole nation of wonderful and beautiful people. Those same vibrational energies still abide in the rocks, the dirt, the waters and the trees which now become the source of our wellbeing. Our spirit should be similar, knowing that we really don’t own anything; we just share it for awhile and then give it all back to Mother Earth.
Open your hearts to those life-giving treasures all around you; as you recognize them, celebrate and give thanks for them, your will always remain young at heart, live long, live healthy and celebrate eternal abundance in your life; then as you open your hearts and hands to others, know that you are imitating the graciousness of our Beloved Mother Earth. She is ever renewing and regenerating her beauty and limitless abundance.
Look at similar simple acts which teach you the path to philanthropy. Even if your voluntary work may sometimes go unnoticed in your country, or even in your community, it still counts immensely, for it sets the stage for the growth and development of your personality and its mindfulness of essentials in life. There may be even times when you are ridiculed for your service to mankind, particularly if you are willing to sacrifice all for the benefit of your country and others.
So examine your life today, tomorrow, in light of the attributes of a philanthropic persons, as described above, and determine now which of these qualities you possess and which will you allow to naturally flow into your hearts and spirit. Right now, for example, how grateful will you be to these ladies who have sacrificed on your behalf? How committed are you to apply the effort to really be deserving of their gifts to you this evening?
Will you, from this evening onward, become ever mindful of your similar role, ten, twenty or thirty years from now to recognize the simplest need of another and respond graciously to it? They believe in you, believe in yourself and prove to yourself the value of that trust they place in you. Therein lies the rebirth of volunteerism, or philanthropy for our beloved Bahama-land. If you want to reap tremendous joy and satisfaction in your life, and reestablish a wonderful real of o philanthropy, tattoo that twelve-letter word into your hearts and minds, and even on your body, if you’re so inclined. I always use the symbol of Mother Earth as my inspiration: she, in her bountifulness continues to give and give limitlessly; from her bosom, from her belly, she graces us unconditionally with her abundance, and that never diminishes.
How grateful are we that she so concerns herself with our needs; how often do we offer her our love and attention; 99.999999 percent of what we are physically comes from her, from her womb, and how do we express our gratefulness to her. Oh how we abuse and misuse her, dumping all our garbage unceremoniously on her belly and upon her bosom. She cries and moans daily from our disrespect for her.
And finally, I wish that you record in your hearts, minds and memories these profound and prophetic words of our dear Martin Luther King Jr.: KEEP MOVING:
“This is the most important and crucial period of your lives, for what you do now, and what you decide at this age will well determine which way your life shall go. And the question is whether you have a proper, a solid and sound blueprint. And I want to suggest some of the things that should be in your life’s blueprint. Number one, in your life’s blueprint should be a deep belief in your own dignity, your own worth, and your own some-bodiness. Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you are nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth, and always feel that your life has ultimate significance. Secondly, in your life’s blueprint, you must have as a basic principle to the determination to achieve excellence in your various fields of endeavor. You are going to be deciding as the days and years unfold what you will do in life, what your life’s work will be. Once you discover what it will be, set out to do it and to do it well. Be a bush, if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star, for it isn’t by size that you win or you fail; be the best at whatever you are. Finally, in your life’s blueprint, must be a commitment to the eternal principles of beauty, love, and justice. Well, life for none of us has been a crystal stair, but we must keep moving, we must keep going. If you can’t fly, run; if you can’t run, walk. If you can’t walk, crawl, but by all means keep moving.”
And this is further underscored by the great philosopher, Albert Einstein who wrote: “Life is like riding a bicycle; To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
Warm congratulations to all the recipients, including the awarded charitable organizations, and an abundance of bountiful gratitude to the esteemed American Women’s Club, a noble and renowned living organism in our land.