Columns

A reflection: Life and death

Raulston
Nembhard

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

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The death of Lowell Hawthorne, CEO of Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery and Grill in the USA, has come as a shock to many in Jamaica and the Diaspora. The shock is not so much that he died — we all die at some point. For many, the shock is in the manner of his death.

No one would have expected this because it was so incongruous with the life of the person they had known. Who they knew was a man with a fighting spirit, his business acumen and resilience, his genuine affability, and his seeming love for life. He did not present that he of all people would do this.

But he did, and we all try to make some sense of this tragic event.

In an interview on Nationwide Radio, Audrey Marks, Jamaica's ambassador to the USA, said that doing business in America broke Hawthorne. This might very well have been the case. What is not often known is that to start a business from scratch and to make it successful in America is not as easy as it appears. There are regulations, bottlenecks, the dreaded Internal Revenue Service, plus bad-mindedness to contend with. The situation is made decidedly harder for an immigrant who does not have hard capital to begin with. To create a business and to build it into a successful brand and franchise, as Hawthorne did with Golden Krust, is admittedly even harder. It is a tribute to his grit, determination and resilience that he was able to do this.

This is not the time to assign blame or to be judgemental. Yet, when these things happen there are questions that need to be asked — if even to help those who are yet alive to come to some accommodation as to how their lives stand relative to the answers that might be given; if even to see how they might take stock and face the existential questions that confront their own lives.

As someone who has had to deal with death and dying at close range over the years, I can well understand what the family may be going through at this time. The unanswered questions, the pain and anguish of asking what could have been done to help a family member in crisis, the unattended and unfilled obligations, especially of the legal kind, that still linger and will now have to be addressed while facing the gaping hole of this loss. The family and close friends will be asking whether there were signs that they should have detected that indicated crisis in his life. Unfortunately, the family is always the last to pick up suicidal ideations in another family member. I am not saying that this was the case here, but too often men do not express freely what is happening in their own hearts to those who are dearest to them. Things are not always what they appear to be.

I can speak with no authority or comfort on the things that ailed Hawthorne. I knew him, but I did not know him well enough to do so. And one should always avoid any pontification, especially in situations like these. What I can say is that I have generally observed in my practice as a family therapist that there are some people who are quite adept at presenting an exterior that suggests to others that all is well when there are deep pains that one is struggling with. What people often see on the outside is really a mask that hides what is really tearing up the person on the inside. And some people are not good at asking for help. Often, to do so is to expose vulnerabilities that they would prefer not to be known. It is to open oneself to critical questions that may cut to the very depth of personal pride that needs to be dethroned.

In this age of “me-ism” we have to learn that it is okay to ask for help. None of us is sufficient unto himself or herself. There are close to eight billion people on this planet and there is someone or some agency that is out there that can render assistance. We do not have to think that we have to bear our burdens alone. Talk to someone if you are hurting. I have long operated with the belief that to every problem there is a solution. All problems at the human level derive from our interactions with others in the community or society in which we live. Since they are of human origin, humans can solve them.

In the heady and dizzying world of business we have to know when to take a break and enjoy the beauty of the planet. What are life's certainties? The sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. We cannot know for sure whether the stock market will be up or down, or whether the central bank will raise interest rates. But whatever happens, life will continue apace. We need not import the anxieties of the future into the present and make ourselves hostages to its most abhorrent features.

In the end, each one of us has to determine what is important to us and what gives our lives meaning. One person will derive joy from planting flowers or a vegetable patch because he likes to see things grow. Another may consider this back-breaking and take scuba diving or hang out in a club. One person may consider it essential to his humanity to help a blind man cross the street, while another may consider it necessary to run over the first dog that crosses his path. One person will invest in the stock market while another may hide his money under his mattress. You get the drift.

I believe that Hawthorne affected many lives for good and he has built and left an iconic legacy in Golden Krust of which Jamaicans can be truly proud. I pray that God will undergird his family with his grace and love as they pass through this difficult time. May his soul rest in peace.

Dr Raulston Nembhard is a priest and social commentator. Send comments to the Observer or stead6655@aol.com.

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