Jamaica is a country that likes to repeat herself. I noticed during my short visit that it’s not uncommon for a Jamaican to follow one slow, deliberate statement with a precise duplicate of the same words immediately afterward. Her music repeats. Her dance repeats. Her food and her drink and her stories repeat. With all this repetition, one might think that, due to lack of more to say, the country is left with no choice but to repeat and repeat and repeat herself some more. I believe that’s true. The thing is, sometimes the story you have to tell is so large, it leaves no space for anything more. That’s Jamaica–a small place with a large story.
Day four of a Caribbean getaway–four days of relaxation, four days of “leaving it all behind”–four days, and still I was vexed by that stubborn imp of anxiety, that unwelcome houseguest who empties my heart of vitality and pays me nothing but a migraine headache and fists full of bloody cuticles. This was a week-long cruise, a magical adventure to lands I’d not seen before, and any sane person experiences nothing but pleasure on such trips, so what does it say of me that four days in, I was still battling for inner peace?
I can only assume that the modern day cruise is an American invention. In America, we cannot envision luxury without an abundance of choice. Choice is what makes our country tick. We are obsessed with it, and without it, we pout and complain we’re being short-changed. So our cruise ships are stuffed from top to bottom with choices. Cruise ships are the oceanic equivalent to the menu at The Cheesecake Factory, a floating vessel of ‘non-stop’, a giant piñata of ‘stuff to do’. A Caribbean Cruise is like a barrel of gasoline on the raging fire of an anxiety sufferer, for few things contribute more to anxiety than that incessant, petulant voice that repeats the same question over and over in one’s ear–“What am I supposed to be doing?”
Echoes of this question and its characteristic accompaniment–the beating of a rapid pulse–remained in my mind as I first set foot on Jamaican soil. I attempted to drown it out with the sound of deep inhales and exhales, to soothe it by dwelling on the novelty of the new land, but it wasn’t until I encountered the people, most notably the children, that I forgot about the question entirely. The question fell off me, and I imagine it still sits alone, beside a craggy Jamaican road, between one of her 1600 churches and a large billboard of Usain Bolt–the fastest man in the world, born in a country that’s not in a hurry to go anywhere. How beautifully ironic.
Jamaica is beautiful. The land is beautiful–mountains, rivers and beaches. Even more beautiful are her people–the way they speak, the way they sing and dance–everything they do reflects a characteristic that is stunning to behold, especially for a Westerner. The Jamaicans I met were settled, unworried, at peace.
Ask a young American what most concerns him, and you’ll often hear of his worries about the future–“Should I go to college?”, “What should I do with my life?”, “Whom should I marry?”“What is God calling me to do?”. So many choices. Perhaps too many. Ask a young Jamaican what most concerns him, and I imagine you’ll get a confused expression, followed by silence. A Jamaican is what a Jamaican is. He doesn’t worry about what “is” means or what he ought to be doing with himself. I find this perspective refreshing and life-altering, so much so that leaving that country made my heart hurt.
I’m into my second week away from the motherland of rum and reggae. I brought home with me some Jamaican coffee and jerk spices, but those things are pitiful substitutes for being there–for being immersed in the real thing. I need more Jamaica. Our society needs more Jamaica. A Westerner with an enterprising spirit would look around that place and see nothing but opportunities for improvement, nothing but opportunities to make more choices. Enterprising spirits have thought this way about Jamaica in the past; those enterprising spirits brought oppression and slavery upon the land, but they couldn’t change her from what she was. She was then, and remains today, free–free in ways most of us may never understand or know for ourselves, and her people remind us of this in the way they live, in the way they sing and the way they dance. ▶️DANCE JAMAICA!