PAUSE BEFORE YOU LEAP by Dave Martins.
Article credits Stabroek News,
As a youngster growing up in Guyana and going to Saints, my friend Stanley Greaves (yes, the painter) had introduced me to (I hope I have the name right) the British Council Library in Georgetown. I remember the adventure stories – Horatio Hornblower – the writing of Aime Cesaire and CLR James, among others, and also being struck by a single sentence in a piece on Abraham Lincoln in which he said that it was his practice when a controversial matter was pending to write about it but to then put the finished reaction away and come back to it a few days later.
It allowed him the time to calm down and evaluate whether his opinion still held. It seemed such a measured approach, and while I admit I sometimes I did the immediate thing and sent off things in anger I ended up regretting, there have been several occasions where Lincoln’s tactic proved useful for me.
One of them involves my time in the 1950s working at B. G. Airways at Atkinson Field while I was living in Vreed-en-Hoop. I was delighted with the job, and enjoyed living with my sister Theresa and her husband Joe Gonsalves who was the Fire Chief at the Base, but one of the drawbacks getting home on my days off was the tight window of travel across the Demerara River in the evening. With no water taxis, and the last ferry around 7pm or so, getting to town well after dark would mean having to overnight there; big disruption for a West Coast country boy; no cell phone in those days. Leaving Atkinson to come down late meant you were on edge all the way about missing that last ferry.
On one occasion, three of us left the Base around 5pm in a taxi. Just before the Madewini bridge, the car had a flat tyre and with no spare we were in serious trouble. All of the taxis and buses for the last flight were already gone. I could picture the Queriman pulling out from the stelling in town at 7 with me somewhere around Coverden. I should mention that a few days prior I had had an altercation with Harry Wendt, then the second banana to Art Williams at Atkinson. It involved the loading pattern of an aircraft with parts of the Tumutumari dredge (I was a Flight Clerk responsible for working out the weights on a slide rule). Wendt was furious at me, said I had it wrong. He worked the slide rule several times, and got the same result I did, but still claimed I was wrong. He was livid when I showed him the numbers, grunted at me, stormed off fuming, and made the loaders shift the cargo to how he wanted it.
During the incident, the lead loader, Galton, came up to me and said, in effect, that Wendt had ignored the slide rule and I should cuss him out, but I held my tongue (after all, he could fire me) and didn’t respond, not even in writing later as I was being urged. About one week after the incident, I’m sitting there in the stalled taxi, hoping against hope that some other late traveler would rescue me for a ride to town. The first two cars that came by were full, no room for the three of us. As the third vehicle, a pick-up truck, pulled up, I could see the driver was Harry Wendt. He looked at me for about 10 seconds, grunted, and then waved us to the back, “Get in.” Climbing in the vehicle, it went through my mind that I would probably have been left there on the road if I had cussed out Wendt a week earlier. Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom had saved my bacon.
Recently, it happened again. This one involves the loss of my landline, and internet, when the GT&T cable was recently damaged off Martinique. After several days with no phone and no email, a GT&T technician named Layne came around and got me going again in a few minutes, but one week later the problem returned. I was livid. I reported the fault, twice, but no response. Three days go by. I’m beside myself. I have a pending matter in the computer re an overseas booking and I can’t get at it. A friend of mine sympathizes and said I should write a letter to the paper about this second consecutive disruption, but, upset as I was, something told me to calm down. I waited two more days. On the seventh day, a GT&T technician showed up, and in 15 minutes he showed me the fault. This time the problem was right here in Guyana; an adventurous East Coast rat had sequestered himself in our house and had eaten through the insulation on the telephone wire. Looking at the chewed up wire, and seeing the humour in the episode, I was conscious of how much of a jackass I would have felt to be seeing a note from GT&T in response to my complaint saying, “Not us, Mr. Martins; your rat.” I would have been embarrassed instead of laughing. Lincoln’s advice had come through again.
It’s something worth considering the next time you get in a rage over some problem and are at the computer firing off a heated response. Emergencies aside, of course, it’s often a better idea to put your finished assault on ice for a couple days; the delay allows time for things to change, hopefully for the better, and for you to realize your opinion is not as set in concrete as you once thought. Pause before you leap.