Shirley Best 1937-2016
Her voice was the most soothing I’ve ever heard; her tone was always serene. She never raised the decibel level.
She was a lover of Nature. Just a few weeks ago she called to discuss Christmas: not the glitz and gifts, but the pleasant changes in the atmosphere and the refreshing intermittent showers.
A few days later she drew my attention to a spectacular sunset – she viewing it from Keizer Hill over historic Oistins Bay and I from the Rock Dundo ridge over historic Bridgetown and the west coast. She liked my description of one of the colours – not grey or black – but charcoal.
I met Shirley Best in 1968 when we worked at the American Embassy on Broad Street in Bridgetown – she with the Consular Section and I with the Information Service. We became fast friends and remained so until her departure on the 28 of last month.
Her early training as a nurse at the Barbados General Hospital at Jemmott’s Lane, St Michael, prepared her to understand and to deal with the challenges of aging, having observed it close up. So that when the arthritic pain and other ailments and challenges arrived she faced them with stoic equanimity.
A few weeks ago we found out that we both shared a disorder and I learned much from her, especially about the foods to avoid.
A witty observer once noted that your body is like a superbly tuned automobile. If you take care of it, use it wisely and maintain it properly, it will eventually break down.
The simple reality nascent in that witticism is that, as human beings, our shelf-lives last only so long. Indeed, when compared with other things, they are unfortunately short.
Our Parliament Buildings in Bridgetown were constructed back in 1872; the Brooklyn Bridge, spanning the East River in New York City, has been there since 1883, and there are some mahogany trees 80 and more years old all over Barbados.
We humans don’t stick around that long. There are many who can expect only 50 or 60-odd years. Of course, there are the exceptional centenarians who keep our Governor General busy. Shirley scored a commendable 79.
The Bible – the King James version – tells us at Psalm 90 that the days of our lives are three score years and ten. Those who go past that magic number should thank their lucky stars and treat those extra years as a special gift.
Shirley and I shared interest in books, music and photography. Over the years we exchanged several books. We discussed Andrea Stuart’s Sugar In The Blood over and over. Whenever we found a passage of interest a telephone call would follow.
The occasion a few years ago that resulted in the longest debate, over several weeks, was Richard Dawkins’s poignant observation in Unweaving The Rainbow.
Dawkins wrote: “We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they’re never going to be born.”
Whenever our conversations shifted into the philosophical, I would raise my persistent question, which I now have only one other friend to put it to: “What’re we here for?” While the surviving friend tells me: “To enjoy the mystery”, Shirley would console me with: “To love one another.”
At the end of every telephone conversation she would sigh, whimsically: “Well, we’ve solved a few more of the world’s problems. Let’s continue next time.”
To Angela and Gillian I offer condolences from myself and family and say to you as you adjust to your dear mother’s absence: “Be of good cheer.”
This past year I witnessed the departure of several friends. I am glad I met them. They have all contributed something to the enrichment of my own 76 years so far.
Especially Shirley Best.
I shall miss Shirley dearly. She departed at the time of the year we both loved Best: the month of December, three days after Christmas, with its cool breezes from the south, the spectacular sunsets, the beautiful poinsettia and the “snow on the mountain”.
May she rest in peace.