Snakes and Ladders
In the 1940's, the centre of intellectual, recreational and cultural life was the St. Gerard's Hall. Built by Redemptorist priest, Fr. Felix Bogart, it served the very important purpose of bringing people together. There plays were staged, public meetings held, musical performances displayed and secondary schools held their annual gathering. It was there that, under the direction of Sr. Mary Borgia, the Lockhart sisters and other catechists, that we, young boys, attended Sunday School. Fr. Stryckers and Fr. Van Ackere sometimes entertained us with silent motion pictures.
After the religious classes, we enjoyed playing, among other games, "Snakes and Ladders". I am not aware of how such a game came into existence. Everything on earth has a history. So its origin might well be more interesting than we imagine. Be that as it may, it probably has a more significant story to tell than we think.
I should like to suggest that the game speaks to us of the unpredictability of human life. It seems to capture the sense of the ups and downs of life as an essential fabric of human endeavour. However hard we try to perform and excel, we are never in complete control of the results. Indeed, the rises and falls of civilizations and of all human constructs are unpredictable since they are not completely in human hands.
There are certain incidents that remain etched in my mind. They entered the realm of my youthful experience and will never leave me. They have had much to do with my vision of life, its challenges and possibilities, its frustrations and expectations.
About 1947, one afternoon, I watched a football match at the Windsor Park between Notre Dame and Empire Club. Now Notre Dame was by far the strongest team in the soccer competition of that year. On reflection, it was not fair to allow the formation of a team like that. Most of the teams members were island players. They had represented Dominica on a few occasions. There was, for example, Sharp Elwin, Russ Elwin, Sydney Dyer, Joe Reid, Phillip Reid, Allan Guye, Hayden Dorival and other stalwarts playing for Notre Dame. Empire Club had no more than two or three players of that stature.
So there it was, David and Goliath took to the field of battle. The game proved very interesting. Both teams struggled hard. For quite a while no goals were forthcoming. Finally, Heskeith Stenbar, playing for Empire Club on the left wing centred the ball. It was a windy afternoon, and it was this, rather than human skill, which determined the outcome of the match. The ball should have gone harmlessly outside the right goal post. Instead, the wind blew it inside, past the hapless Sydney Dyer. Goal! Goal! Goal! roared the expectant crowd. That was the only goal of the match. Once again history repeated itself. David triumphed over Goliath.
In 1947, Dr. Dorian Shillingford, against all expectations, was awarded the Island Scholarship on the basis of the Senior Cambridge School Certificate Examination. This enabled him to pursue the study of Medicine. He had not been considered the top student at the Dominica Grammar School. In fact, there were three other students who were considered more accomplished. But he overcame them all. Once again the outcome was wholly unexpected. The underdog had triumphed.
But there have been other incidents in our history which were more crucial than these. They concerned life and death. They speak to us of the absolute unpredictability of human existence. Far from celebrating our triumph when disaster befalls our opponents, we should humbly confess, "Here but for the grace of God go I."
During the tenure of office of Mr. Edward LeBlanc as Premier of Dominica, a certain political foe passed away. One of the Premier's henchmen immediately telephoned him to report gleefully the news. Little did the gentleman know that he himself had only a few more weeks to live!
Would it not be advisable that our politicians get together to play a game of "Snakes and Ladders"? It would provide an opportunity for relaxation from the tension that threatens their composure and mental balance. Much more than that, it would speak to them of the uncertainty of all human expectations and the unpredictability of the outcome of all human endeavours. It would impress upon them the need to humbly embrace friends and foes alike, bearing in mind their vulnerability and that they are all very much in this game of "Snakes and Ladders".