May 2, 2007

Great Imperative Meme

Great Imperative memeAbout a week ago, I was reading an interview with the former Prime Minister of Jamaica, Michael Manley, and I came upon the quote, "The only imperative of my life has been egalitarianism." And I thought: What has been the great imperative of my life?

And then, I thought, this would make a great meme. But before I do anything else, let me name the people who have been tagged:

Stephen Bess


Professor Zero

Mad Bull



Nicolette Bethel


Alice Backer

David McQueen

Doan Mind Me

And YOU!

If you don't have a blog, then leave your "great imperative" as a comment. It will be your version of Freedom Writers.

BTW, the meme doesn't have to be as long as mine. It can be one sentence. I just went with the flow...

The great imperative of my life has been…

From the time that I've known myself, I've always noticed little things about people--the way some people purse their lips so they won't smile or the perpetual knitted brow of worry that some seem to wear. It has never been a critical assessment; it has always been a fascination.

Like two weeks ago, I was at a concert and the piano player, an elderly gentleman, played some great tunes. After the show, I went up to congratulate him and it was then I noticed that although he looked quite dapper onstage, his suit was crushed and his shoes were cracked. Tiny wisps of stiff gray hair escaped from under his hat. He frightened me.

Men like that always frighten me.

It's because I've seen them so many times. So much talent, yet in their later years, it seems as if they barely have enough to hold body and soul together. Yet they make a gallant front because they have been showmen all their lives. Old, black men have a similar effect on my daughter. When she lived in Tallahassee, the sight of old, black men waiting in the cold at a bus stop or walking late at night or early in the morning, just broke her heart.

But the old musician frightened me in a different way. During my wasted youth when I'd sometimes ride around with Seeco Patterson, I'd meet so many old musicians, who after introductions, would pull me over to a corner out of Seeco's earshot and whisper, "Brown man, you can give me a dollar?" And hearing that from a man who had given me, Jamaica, the world, great music and sometimes moments of real pleasure dubbin with a dawta, and that he was now destitute usually resulted me giving him a five or a ten--if I could afford it. I didn't care if he was an alcoholic or that he'd smoked too much weed. It didn't matter. It was none of my business and it was an act of gratitude. He had given himself in a beautiful way that stuck in my memory and that could never be repaid because he had contributed something beautiful to my life.

Yet despite these emotions, sometimes I always noticed something that would lead to ask myself: How did this happen? Why did this happen? How does he feel begging money from a nineteen year old boy when he used to be such a big man? How does it feel?

And if the person really made an impression on my sensibilities they usually ended up in a poem or short story. I'd imaginatively enter their lives to capture something about them, how I imagined what brought us together in that time and in that space that could never be recreated. It's how sometimes I think about how my wife and I ended up together. Her mother is from Rio Sucio, Colombia and my mother is from Struie, Jamaica. Which buses did they miss? What accidents did they meet in that changed their lives? How many births, deaths, weddings, moments of joy brought us together in that time and space? How did we have the good sense at that time to say yes to that moment? And all through these questions, I'm always asking: What is it like? What did it feel like?

And if the questions could be answered in a poem, short story, or novel, then I'd have to muster the courage to write it without the fear of rejection haunting my every word. Because it's that, isn't it? Courage. The courage to say, "You know what, I love this," and put it out there without any thought of reward. And then simply acknowledging that you've done the best with the hand you've been dealt, but then turning it around and saying, "If this is my hand, then this is how I am going to play it."

I won't say it has been easy. I come from an island where "reputation" is everything, and even something like this, blogging, may even be considered in some circles "bad form." I don't know. I may be wrong. I haven't lived there for so long. Maybe, in time, this will become the subject for a future poem, short story, or novel. Who knows?

So, the one imperative in my life has been to have the courage to create poems and stories that ask the questions, what is it like? What does it feel like?

Now it's your turn!

The great imperative of my life has been…


Stephen A. Bess said...

I really enjoyed reading this. Your description of the old musician was cool. This was excellent! I'll be happy to do this. I'll probably post mine by Monday if not before. Peace~

Rethabile said...

Brilliant. I can't wait to dive into this. Tonight we're having "the" debate here in France, before Sunday's final vote. But after that, I'm asking myself what the great imperative of my life is/has been.

lifestyle said...

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Geoffrey Philp said...

Stephen & Rethabile, I can't wait.


Mad Bull said...

Respect, Mr. Goeffrey. What a gwaan? You do me a great honour, sir, by linking to something I wrote in a post as entertaining as this one was. Bless.
I will endeavour to follow up your meme, but the only thing is, I am not sure what MY imperative is. You are actually asking me to (* gasp *) think about what it is...
I will try, as is you.

Anonymous said...


I'm looking forward to reading Rethabile's and Stephen's, too.

I'll be thinking about mine. ;)

Don't know if I'll get much further than that. The great imperative of my life right now is grading 60 or so freshman research papers.

After that, drinking. Heavily.


Rethabile said...

Done. Thank you.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear TS,
I can't say I blame you. Many people don't know the toll that grading takes on our lives. It's heavy. As I said to my dean when she asked about Virginia Tech., if you want to know the pulse of a college, go to the English department.

Cheers, TS

Geoffrey Philp said...

Mad Bull,
I've linked to the Richard Gere post. But I've always liked those posts where you talk about growing up with your son and of course when you've talked about your father.


Anonymous said...

Geoffrey, you are an inspiration....always challenging those around you to think and reflect. My greatest imperative in life since I can remember having the where-with-all to do anything, has been to treat everyone with respect and sisterly love no matter what their circumstances might be. I remember our helper Kat'leen (unfortunately after being away 27 years I ahve lost contact) who I was so close to in Jamaica at least once a week asking me if she could take a little oil because she didn't even have chicken-back or a piece of shad for her family to eat with the "food"(i.e. usually dumplin and banana). I would take, without my mother knowing, a can a sardines or tin makerel and give it to her, because to me no one should have to go without as she had described. This was a regular practice with Kat'leen and she would never take (trust me my mother would know, and if she ever asked, I'd tell her I ate it). My gardner Derek, a hard working man, now with a family of eight was the same, and I remember the same kind of help with food whenever it was needed. The good news is that I am in touch with Derek and his fanily, and they get a package from me every Christmas (not a barrel, but very close to it, with food, school supplies, and things I feel they need and would appreciate). I remember about ten years ago I encountered a lady downtown Miami, clearly homeless and addicted to some substance. We got to talking and she had a strong Jamaican accent. I was so deeply touched, as in my naivety, I never imagined I'd buck up on a Jamaican in that condition here in these United States. I felt ashamed and hurt, and then when I came to my senses I began to lecture her about taking back her pride as a strong Jamaican who could overcome any challenge, and where was the resilience I knew she had prior to coming to America, and that she needed to go to the Camillus House and seek the help she needed to get back on track. She seemed to perk up somewhat when I told her that I was Jamaica. However, her distant look, fidgety stance, and her physical appearance led me to believe that her addiction was extremely serious. I gave her some money, since that is what she stopped me for, and I went away feeling a great sense of impotence because I was not able to help or make a difference in her life. I couldn't think of anything that I could do other than pray for her, and until today I still pray for that stranger who I doubt I will ever forget. May the Almighty and mankind continue to stretch forth a strong and helping hand to all who are in need; a chain is as strong as its weakest link, and the world can only get better if every link takes responsibility for another link.

Much love and respect,
Empress Lou

Anonymous said...


Great stuff. I feel your pain in your meme. Interestingly, it is these same pains that has led me to know my great imperative. Simply put, it is the advocation for equal rights and justice for all peoples, of all places, at all times. I have been through a lot in my time, but, I have seen a lot more happen to others that pales in comparison to my own tribulations. I share you you one such incidence.

I was sent to be in charge of crime at this police station in St. Catherine, Jamaica, where crime had gotten out of control, and I was sent to "cool" the area. I decided to at the station ,we had decent sub-officers quarters, my first weekend there. I woke up early the Sunday, looked out a louver window at vast green, mist covered hill sides, down quiet sleeping plains, and finally, my eyes settled on the small frame of an elderly female struggling to climb the small, steep road that led to the station. I opened the door, stood there beaten as I watched her struggling to maintain her balance as she approached me. I would see that she had been crying. Her fresh tears and mixed in with the dry mud caked ones, her fading floral dress was soiled clay brown. Her eyes were filled with cole. She bowed her head, humiliated as she spoke. "Sparkie rape mi," she said. It took me a while to respond. I wasn't sure what to do, how to comfort her, so I held her, comforted her, and sat her down before I regained my footing to start investigating.

I went for the rapist pre-dawn on morning. My sergeant was ahead of me. We crept silently to the small kitchen at the rear of his house where we found the rapist standing with three machete sticking in the ground at arms reach. The sergeant panicked and moved to the side as I swiftly entered, and yanked him outside. I arrested him. At the trial, people wept as that old lady testified of her ordeal. The rapist was convicted.

I give thanks that I was able to help her gain some measure of justice.

I give thanks.


It is situations like this one

Anonymous said...

Hi Geoffrey,

Your post started me thinking (Oh boy!). I do not really wish to give you my answer as a comment, so I'll just leave it as an answer. I mean, instead of spreading it on the www, let's just send it across an ocean (and not a Pacific one) and see if it can make it through to you.

Silly start, ok, but it's been a rather not-so-pleasant too many weeks in a row. Back to The Great Imperative of My Life: when I was a boy, I was sure I would die before my 20th birthday; when I was about 12-13, I thought I would never make it to 26. I hated that number, found it ugly, could not imagine myself saying or thinking "I am 26." Yuk! I felt quite sure I would die before turning 26. And so, as a consequence and a matter of fact, I never set myself many goals - great or not - or imperatives in life (for instance, as a boy, I never planned to be a space traveller, a doctor, a superhero or that sort of things: on the contrary, I was fascinated by men who cleaned the streets. They used long brushes to help water run in the gutters, sometimes pushing dead leaves on the way, and I found that the greatest job on Earth.

Later, I wanted to be a postman, so that I would bring my grand-parents their mail everyday and we would have breakfast together. Ahem.). I could have thought "Let's achieve something unforgettable before dying so young", but no. I sort of accepted it as my fatum and wondered how death would slain me. And then one day I turned 26 and lived on. I'll turn 30 this year, and The Great Imperative of My Life is Yet To Come. Find a wife? Start a family? Get richer than Bill Gates? Find a publisher for my translation of Benjamin, My Son? I must confess the fourth goal is the one I am most concentrated upon.

That question of The Great Imperative of My Life reminds me of Jacques-Yves Cousteau (yes, the famous commandant Cousteau) being interviewed on television (13 o'clock news, about 14 years ago, or more). He was already an old man, and the journalist asked him something like "What do you think people will remember of you and your work". And Cousteau answered something like: "I cannot look back at my work, because I am still alive and working." So, ok, I have no actual, conscious, Great Imperative in My Life. Which does not mean I am drifting along without any measure of ethics or moral. It's just like this life is for seeing, contemplating and learning. Should Anyone grant me another life, should I be granted the opportunity to start it all over, then I'll try and find myself a Great Imperative. And who knows, maybe I'll be a central defender for A.C. Milan, or I'll play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix.

They say you only live once. Fine. So I'll live. Then we will see. I'm not too sure I'll click on "Send": in my mind, the one reason I should send you an e-mail should be to announce you I have found a publisher for the translation of Benjamin, My Son. Which is not the case. OK. I'll re-read this mail and then I'll decide on the "Send" question (feels like I have drifted from "Imperative" to "Goal". Must be football-obsessed.)

Cheers anyway!


Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Malachi, Christopher, and Empress Lou,
Thank you for your Comments
Malachi, how how you never told me about this before? Wow! I never knew this.

Sister Lou, I know it's hard sometimes to see the poor and the downtrodden,especially when they come from yard. We do what we can when we can.

Christopher, you are too funny. I didn't know this side of you.

FSJL said...

To find out what's around the corner.

Anonymous said...

i am in Madrid and although i am suppose to be in the English section when i pushed comment, i don´t know what happen so all i have fi say is: it´s the heart that matter and what you see and feel.

The great imperative of my life has been to be present to the moment, and to notice all and honor all.
I only want to live this moment full, to feel it melting on my tongue, to sniff its aroma, to stand in it and be a witness of the now, the present, the immediate this lived moment that slips away at the blink of an eye...
Like the incredible rainbow I witnessed as the bus from Leon neared Madrid and the clouds that where holding pockets of water floated like butterflies...That moment and the many after and before.

Invited to a typical Spanish lunch birthday celebration of my friend´s mother 80th birthday and to see how elegant and strong she is and how she still caters totally to her husband, serving him first, even cutting up his meat. And I am looking on in awe and amazement, thinking she is eighty and they have been married for over fifty-four years, yet there is such love and tenderness and even automatic response in all that she does for her husband first, even on this day, her birthday. She cooks a tender lamb stew because he likes it, but he still not able to say to her, sweetheart the food is great...Her daughter, my friend, says, he has always been like that, and still even now after all these years, her mother hopes he will just once compliment her, but she the daughter knows he will not; he belongs to that generation of men who are emotionally empty she says... me in that moment, a black Jamaican woman in an all white privilege Spanish home, that moment and being witness to it...the love and strain and unmet desires that will live on.

It is about meeting people right where they are and loving them in the now, the anguish and living through it... being present and honoring both the mother and the father and the daughter and enjoying the celebration and eating and being full and knowing that this moment will not be relived, and I could not have imagined or predicted it... no more than catching the sight of the rainbow on the bus on the ride from Leon to Madrid and giving thanks for all of it, the acceptance and feeling of all of it...

Opal Adisa

Nicole said...

This is a great question that provokes much thought, a question that I have no immediate answer for. Good thing? Bad thing? Who knows?

Like Christopher, I live life. It wasn’t that I was afraid I’d die by a certain age. It’s that I’ve been afraid all of my life, afraid to be me, afraid to live life fully. I’m over 40 and lately I’ve been asked and have asked myself, “What mark will I leave on this world?” Everyone, except me, thinks I have many great gifts. Maybe my great imperative is – to wake up and live life fully engaged in ach moment as Opal described.

Still thinking on this...

Geoffrey Philp said...

Nicole, that may be it. Most of the mystics point that way--waking up.

Thank you!

And thank you, Opal!

Dr. Joan Cartwright said...

Keep your dream close to your heart and your mind will know the answer.

While your soul plays the chords, your imagination can be the dancer.

Love and music,
Diva JC

Geoffrey Philp said...

As you have done, JC. I am really loving your book, In Pursuit of a Melody

Geoffrey Philp said...

Fragano, and the next and the next and...

One Love

Dr. Joan Cartwright said...

I am so happy to know you like my book!

Will you come to my book signing at Afro-in Books in Miami on Saturday, May 5 at 7 p.m.?

Diva JC

Rethabile said...

Ntate Geoffrey,

I thought you might like Jim's response to the meme. I did.

Anonymous said...

Geoffrey that Michael Manley interview. Nice.
On life's imperatives.

The last few years have taken me back to the team I picked and now I have made a few changes and with you posting a request for meme, I have dusted off my list for this occasion.
My team included people whom were way above me intellectually, socially and wiser because of life's hits and misses, who had the common touch. Most kept the touch until the end, others have remained true to themselves and humanity is better for it.

My Team:

Rex Nettleford
Dennis Scott
Michael Manley
Mr. Scott (my mentor)
Walter Rodney
Dudley Thompson
Claude McKay
Mrs. Johnson (my fifth grade teacher)
Bob Marley & Peter Tosh Bunny Wailer plus the wailers as a group
Fidel Castro
Eric Williams
Errol Barrow
Forbes Burnham

So, when i complete the next two projects you will see a part of my my vision emerging based on the precepts of the above persons. These are all Caribbean persons, brilliant, wise and ahead of their times. Please recall my questions on definition sometime ago (which you posted to everyone) Some answers lie with some of the people on my list who have defined us and we dear to ignore their work to our peril.

Thanks for your blog.
Reggae Concepts
P.O. Box 998
Owings Mills, MAryland 21117

Stephen A. Bess said...

I'm done with my meme. Thanks again Geoffrey! :)

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Stephen!
I hope readers will go over to your site and have a look.


Anonymous said...

Respect the fact that karma does exist; if you're wrong, admit it; most people are generally decent, but you can't trust everyone either; love who you are, and if you don't, do something about it; and whether you know it or not, people can tell when you're full of crap. So, be true to yourself, and to others, as often as possible.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Yes, Nigel!
One of the most interesting people I met in Miami was an old Cuban lady named Beatriz Bryan. She was a lawyer in Cuba but as she grew older, she grew disillusioned with systems. "the only law I beileve in," she said, "is the law of karma."
Me, too, Beatriz. Me too.