06 December, 2008


Grace before meals. I know it is self-indulgent. I ask your forgiveness. It is nothing to do with either integrity or with Anguilla. Someone has asked me what was the story on the radio about my having been asked to say grace before meals at my High School Reunion Dinner in Trinidad last month. I might as well share the answer I gave him. It won’t be long before the blessed amnesia that falls over all painful memories, and makes past events glow as through rose-tinted spectacles, takes over.

I am sitting down at table, looking forward to the Reunion Dinner. The place is the JFK Auditorium at UWI. I am chatting to old schoolmates. I recall they included Gerald Kenny and Stuart Henderson. There are judges of the Court of Appeal and Ministers of Government scattered at other tables around the auditorium. The good and the great sit around. My back is to the microphone and loud speakers. I am talking during meals, always a punishable offence when we were at boarding school. My old school friend of 45 years ago, Peter Tang, is doing the master of ceremonies thing. I hear him announce over the loudspeakers, “Now, can we ask Don Mitchell to come up to the microphone and say grace for us?”

Justice Anthony Lucky, his wife Cintra, the Lord Abbot, Monks and dignitaries

I do not know what to do with myself. He has not alerted me before-hand. I am stumped. The last time I said ‘grace before meals’ I was a callow seventeen year-old. I have not had the time to make one up for the occasion. It is too short a notice to do so now.

Peter Tang, Master of Ceremonies

I stand up. I have a couple of choices. I can decline as gracefully as I can, indicating I am microphone-shy. The problem is that no one will believe that excuse.

I can brazen it out and pretend to be a regular grace-sayer, and risk sounding like a tongue-tied idiot. I am not going to do that.

I decide to just so what comes naturally. Say something, no matter how irrelevant or beside the point. That, I knew from experience, comes easiest to me.

Don at the podium, not sure what he is going to say for 'grace'

I stride to the podium and take the microphone from Peter. I do not have any idea what I am going to say. The steel band is softly playing classical music in the background. I take a deep breath and begin, “Let me thank Peter Tang for inviting me to say grace. It has been a long time since I have said grace before meals. We Chinese Episcopalian Buddhists have our own way of giving thanks for a meal we are about to receive. We don’t do it in the standard way. We are accustomed to go out into our garden before meals and look at our flowers. We smile at the beauty of the hibiscus, and meditate on the wonders of the bougainvillea. But, I do not know the garden at this Auditorium. So, I cannot invite you to accompany me outside to say grace. Let me just say that for many years now my prayer has been that I might be able one last time to sit down for one night and to share a meal with my fellow “old boys” of the Abbey School, Mount St Benedict. I am so happy that my prayers have been answered tonight. I hope that yours will be too.”

And, with that, I put down the microphone and resume my seat. I sit there, waves of failure-anxiety sweeping over me.

After a few silent moments, an unctuous voice comes over the loudspeaker behind my back, “And, now let us pause for the invocation . . .” I do not recall what he said after that. The usual, I suppose. Then, Peter pipes up over the loudspeaker, “There, Don, that is how it is done.”

A young lady comes up to me afterwards. She tells me proudly that her radio station has broadcast the whole thing live for all Trinidad to hear. She tells me that she has recorded my ‘grace’ on her cellphone. She shows me a clip of it in proof.

Since then, I have tried to contact her by email to get a copy. I thought vaguely that I might add it to my videos on the “facebook” account my niece set up for me. Perhaps, alongside the clip from Bill Mahr, “The Roman Catholic Church: The Bear Sterns of Paedophilia”. She won’t respond to my requests. More failure-anxiety.


  1. The Mirror, UK
    Dec 16 2003
    From Jeremy Charles In Rome

    Soul singer Lauryn Hill stunned Vatican officials at a Christmas concert by launching an attack on paedophile priests.

    Former Fugees star Hill, 28, said she accepted her invitation only so she could protest at child sex scandals in the United States.

    She told the 7,000 crowd: "I am sorry if I am about to offend some of you. I did not accept my invitation to celebrate with you the birth of Christ. Instead I ask you why you are not in mourning for him in this place?

    "I want to ask you, what have you got to say about the lives you have broken?

    "What about the families who were expecting God and instead were cheated by the Devil?

    "Who feels sorry for them, the men, women and children damaged psychologically, emotionally and mentally by the sexual perversions and abuse carried out by the people they believed in?

    "Holy God is a witness to the corruption of your leadership, of the exploitation and abuses which are the minimum that can be said for the clergy. There is no acceptable excuse to defend the church."

    No one at the Vatican would comment yesterday on Hill's outburst.

    Hill flew back to New York last night unrepentant. She said: "What I said was the truth. Is telling the truth bad manners? What I asked was the church to repent for what has happened."

    Hill, who is married to reggae legend Bob Marley's son Rohan, set a record for female artists in 1999 when she won five Grammy awards for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, which sold more than six million copies.

  2. Note that this appeared just a week later:

    Trinidad Guardian
    24th December, 2003
    Loss of proper values killing youth — priest
    By Jada Loutoo

    Young people are being lost to outside influences, a Roman Catholic priest has said. Fr Tom Lawson said the loss of proper values was killing young people and called on the national community to reclaim “all that is wholesome and healthy.”

    “We need to be clear in our values. People are losing their sense of true values and adopting others,” he said in delivering the homily at the funeral of Dion Patel, son of Angostura director Patrick Patel, at the St Finbar’s RC Church, Diego Martin.

    Patel, 27, died on Sunday morning when he lost control of the car he was driving and slammed into the median at the entrance to Hi-Lo Supermarket in Westmoorings.

    Dion, Fr Lawson said, was a victim of a society void of proper values.

    Young people, Lawson said, were living in the wilderness and lost to other values.

    “We need to treasure family life and respect. Those are the values we should be departing. We have to reclaim our values of 30 or 40 years ago, because the situation is worsening and young people are dying. We need to reclaim society and all that is wholesome,” he said.

  3. While it is true that I don't live a real Christian life, many of our candidates and supporters are so-called Christians.
    --Osbourne Fleming, political meeting, 1984

    For what we are about to receive,may the Lord make us truely thankful. ( For Christians)

    For what we are about to receive, may we all be truely thankful. (For atheists and agnostics)

  5. My father, a Christian minister, was once asked to say the grace before a meal, with the added comment to "keep it short, Reverend." He stood up and when the gathering was quiet, said "Grace" and sat down.

  6. I just read your Grace before meals piece. It reminded me of something similar.

    I had not been to Church for a couple of decades at least, and on a trip to T'dad I attended a family funeral which was done with a High Mass. I was in a daze as usual. Suddenly everybody turned around and started shaking hands with everybody else! Afterwards, a cousin of mine came up to me and said "I believe, from your body language and the expression on your face, that you have not been to Mass since the Vatican made some changes x number of years ago!" I had to agree, and he filled me in.

    Glad to see that all that energy that you demonstrated up and down the hills at the playing field went on to give you a successful career!

  7. Don, brillant! David


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