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These Are The Times That Try Men’s Souls

Fri, 3 Aug 2012 Source: Baidoo, Philip Kobina

When I first heard about the death of President John Evans Fiifi Atta Mills I knew the sluice gates of foul language were going to burst asunder. However, what I never expected was the appalling, derisory and cheap commentary by people I expect to know better. Even an evil person has his day of remembrance, according to an Akan saying. That day of remembrance is not for the evil he did, but, at least, for the joy he brought in between his hated life. Now, if that is accorded a common unsavoury character how much more a statesman who has lived a full life. I have always wanted the best out of the late president, and I have used him as a punching bag, perhaps, strident in the past. Nevertheless, there is a limit to what we can and cannot do in times like this.

As a people we don’t say bad things about a departed soul; and there is a reason for that. Even in America the land of the free and the home of the brave there are certain information that are classified as national security and protected by the constitution, because its revelation can upset the applecart. Likewise, we don’t add insults unto injuries especially when a family is grieving the passing of an illustrious son. It is sad, tragic and unsettling and some people are going to find it difficult to deal with it.

Of course, these are the times that try men’s souls. These poignant words were the preamble to one of Thomas Paine’s classics, written during the dark nights of the American War of Independence to the troops under George Washington in 23 December 1776. He went further to assert that the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis shrink from the service of their country; but they that stand it now, deserve the love and thanks of man and woman.

The continual politicisation of the passing away of President Mills at the beginning of a crucial general election, which has been puffed up with uncouth language, words and harsh rhetoric is certainly a time that is going to test our souls and character. I am tempted to say that this is our winter of 1776, but it will be an insult to the memory of the troops of Washington who braced unimaginable hardships to fight for the independence of their nation.

Be that as it may, this period is certainly dicey for our democracy, and they that stand to be counted now deserve the gratitude of all Ghanaians. There is no doubt that the rumour mills and the conspiracy theorist are going to go overdrive with outlandish and ridiculous claims. Similarly, the pundits are going to go berserk with outrageous remarks and some have already started with distasteful ones uncharacteristic of the Ghanaian tradition. I will not even stoop that low to mention names; it’s up to them to deal with their conscience. To give them the pleasure of having to defend themselves is beneath contempt.

There comes a time when everything seems to be falling apart, if you will permit me to use this phrase by Chinua Achebe. Then an event of an earth shattering magnitude rear its ugly face to cause people to pause and take stock. We needed to take time off and look ourselves in the mirror and ask if we like what we see. This is it. As untimely as it may be we are saddled with the unexpected and we have to make the most out of it. As tragic as the death of the President may be we should not let it go without gleaning its advantages.

I wrote about three years ago that our democracy is fragile; the circumstances have not changed, and we need to handle it with ultra tender care until the time when winning and losing becomes our second nature. The need to win is hardwired in our genetic makeup. It is as fundamental to our survival as we need oxygen to live. However, civility has pruned that rough edges of our humanity and present that seamier side in a positive light. But the edge to run wild is just under the surface protected by our thinly veiled temperament.

There are people who are never going to be satisfied whatever the outcome of an election. Especially those who believe when they lose the price someone must pay, and whine that the process was rigged, which unfortunately is picked up with gusto by those who should know better. With the Wayomegate, ISOFOTON, Gallopers, CP etc. and the ‘all die be die’ and genocidal mantra coming from politicians the stakes couldn’t be higher; and it’s not going to end very well. So as we dry clean our Edinkra Kente and our black suit and lit the candles to mourn the President let us not just shed crocodile tears, but recall the memory of the late President and honour him with a peaceful election. This is the least he will expect from us. After all he was the Asomdweehene.

There are those who are rubbing their fingers and licking their lips, because of what this development has in store for them. Majority are those who are devastated, especially his wife and immediate family. Let us grieve with them. There will be a time and a place for critique of the events leading to his untimely death. But this is hardly the time; let us celebrate the man for, at least, what he has done for our education – his chosen profession.

Finally this is what I leave those who are grief stricken, and find it difficult to come to terms with it. As I first heard the news and I was awe struck I found myself singing this timeless classic by Francis Henry Lyte. It was written on his death bed when his life was ebbing away with consumption. I hope it soothes your pain.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life's little day; Earth's joys grow dim; its glories pass away; Change and decay in all around I see; O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

Not a brief glance I beg, a passing word, But as Thou dwell'st with Thy disciples, Lord, Familiar, condescending, patient, free. Come not to sojourn, but abide with me.

Come not in terrors, as the King of kings, But kind and good, with healing in Thy wings; Tears for all woes, a heart for every plea. Come, Friend of sinners, thus abide with me.

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile, And though rebellious and perverse meanwhile, Thou hast not left me, oft as I left Thee. On to the close, O Lord, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour. What but Thy grace can foil the tempter's power? Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be? Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless; Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness. Where is death's sting? Where, grave, thy victory? I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. Heaven's morning breaks, and earth's vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Philip Kobina Baidoo Jnr. London baidoo_philip@yahoo.co.uk

Columnist: Baidoo, Philip Kobina