Who Are We?
I found myself facing a mirage. This place seemed magical. While mysterious, it was adorned with pink sand beaches, soft-hued edifices and pristine and azure Atlantic waters. Storytellers still mesmerize and amuse with tales of strange happenings and fortunes. Once known as the “Island of Demons,” Bermuda is far more than it seems. What impressed me the most, however, is that it appeared to be a place where people are absolutely confident and proud of whom they are.
This trip inspired comparisons with home. Let there be no mistake, while idyllic in numerous ways, Bermuda does not equate to absolute perfection. Similarly, America is an exquisite diamond, sparkling intensely, yet, still possessing flaws. There are recent concerns that our citizens are witnessing the “nation teetering on the brink of a widening abyss” and facing a developing fissure that is rivaling Americans against each other. Likewise, in Bermuda, even in the midst of a utopia, there are also moments of high political tension over issues like readiness for independence from Britain, long term residency for foreign nations, and labor concerns. Just like us, Bermudians grapple with social justice issues like racial disparity, income inequality, educational access and criminal justice though on a considerably less grand scale. In fact, in a recent Conde Nast Traveler article, Activist Kristen White articulates concerns over Black Bermudians being left behind: “We have our own brand of racism- it just looks and feels different.”
Between the two, I determined some difference in approaches to the resolution of issues. There, civility and respect consistently seemed to govern. Here, it appears that polarizing politics, heightening propagation of disinformation and increased violence are intensifying. Questions have arisen: Are we a nation that will ultimately stand together with pride and fortitude to try to solve the worst of what afflicts us? Or, are we becoming so disjoined that our emotional and spiritual compasses are disintegrating? During challenging times, such as these, one thing is for sure, we must continue to ask ourselves: Who are we?
In any case, it was a relief to rest my mind in wonderland and feed my soul for a week’s time. During my stay, I was grabbed by those that I met and their solid convictions about everyday life, values and mores, as I learned about their home and their existence. Consider these examples:
Christian proudly donned the official Bermuda “rig” (formal attire), consisting of a dark blazer, traditional Bermuda shorts in pink, and knee socks- quite honorable and elegant attire, as he lectured about the prominence of this British Overseas Territory. He boasted of the historical importance of Bermuda to global exploration, beginning with the exploits of Italian Explorer Christopher Columbus and Spanish Navigator Juan Bermudez. Christian also reflected upon strange occurrences that where noted by Columbus, while exploring the waters of the Atlantic, including moving stars; a glowing object shooting upward to the sky; and, a curious light vanishing and reappearing in the sky multiple times. However, it was Juan Bermudez who, in 1505, actually discovered the precious island, hence, the name Bermuda. Christian’s local perspective on Bermuda’s intriguing history and rich culture was delivered with the same dignity and friendly appeal displayed on the island by each resident that I encountered as I strolled along for sightseeing, dining and shopping.
J.T. puts family first and routinely works two to three jobs to make ends meet, as do most Bermudians, he points out along the ride. He announced his self-determination as he discussed some of the challenges confronted in everyday life: Cost of living is three times that in the USA and about 250% greater than in Britain. In fact, Bermuda is the most expensive place to reside in the world. Nearly 85% of goods are imported, contributing to high costs. The average home is about $900,000; nothing is available for under $500,000. Homes are largely inherited and often house multiple renters in order to cover the cost of maintaining the property or the mortgage, should there be one. He worries about gangs among the young that are beginning to gain some prominence and that are unique by parish. Sometimes, family members are pitted against each other based upon where they live. What’s more, there are issues of the hurricane season; one per family car ownership law; expensive health care; and, the onerous system for fresh water acquisition, involving all households. One thing was clear; however, he wouldn’t trade the sunshine, coral beaches, magnificent beachfront landscapes, family and community to live anywhere else. J.T. is a true Bermudian and finds the obstacles well worth scaling.
Captain Michael was passionate and absolutely buoyant as he navigated the Reef Explorer, an awesome custom built glass-bottomed boat. He owns this cruiser and operates it with his brother for snorkeling missions and 100 square foot glass-bottom boat escapades. Not being a snorkeler, I embarked upon the exploration of Turtle Coves. Not only was I delighted by the luxury of an eyewitness underwater view of the Sea Gardens Coral Reef but, by the unsullied expanse of marine space which was the natural habitat for multitudes of sea life species. Secure in his expertise of Bermuda’s waters, Captain Michael steered over the blooming reef-building corals and past breathtaking costal views, pointing out the uninhabited canvas eco-houses and homes of Mark Twain, William Denslow, Eugene O’Neal, Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Absent of any detectable swag, he was both a true historian and storyteller, offering perspectives on Bermuda’s role in wars; bonds with England, the US and Canada; cost of living and inflation; the tax haven Bermuda; and, crime. As he hovered around and over the sunken 18th century HMS Vixen, Captain Michael explained how the ship was intentionally sunk to prevent an attack on the Royal Dockyards by enemy torpedo boats. Needless to say, we were also humored by a few stories of pirate raids and the disappearances of 50 ships and 20 aircraft. Vanishings in “The Devil’s Triangle” without a trace- you’ve probably read about these aberrations in Shakespeare’s “The Tempest,” which is said to be inspired by tales of the crew of the shipwrecked Sea Venture and black magic in Bermuda. Take heed!
Collectively, Christian, J.T. and Captain Michael, along with the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo, depicted a very credible view of history, life and culture in their beloved home.
Their perspectives were enhanced even more by the numbers:
181 -The number of islands that make up the archipelago of Bermuda, with 7 islands categorized as the main ones and more than 170 small islets and rocks. The largest island is 14 miles long and 1 mile wide.
500,000- 1,500,000- Total square miles comprising the area between Florida, San Juan and Bermuda, known as The Bermuda Triangle.
1505- The year Juan Bermudez is credited with discovering Bermuda, though some say he may have arrived there as early as 1503.
1790- The date Hamilton was founded by the British, remaining the capital and administrative center of the island since 1815.
2- The number of centuries in which the Bermuda Royal Naval Dockyard protected England’s interests in the West Indies from the US and France. However, during the World Wars this strategically located dockyard provided great protection for Allied troops crossing the Atlantic. Decommissioned in 1995, the dockyard now known as, King’s Wharf houses artists, shops and the Clocktower Mall.
9- The number of parishes that make up Bermuda, which is a self-governing parliamentary democracy.
62,090- The number of people estimated to inhabit Bermuda; 52% Black, 31% White, 9% Multi-racial, 8% Asian and Other. Around 82.2% of the population has strong religious affiliations.
1,200- The amount of varied seashells collected at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute, making it the largest seashell collection in the world.
300- Shipwrecks, including the Montana and the Constellation, over the coral reefs around Bermuda, making it the shipwreck capital of the world.
48%- Rate of visitors returning to the island!
Well, Bermuda, I guess you are an illusion, but with a few distortions: Captivating and aesthetically pleasing, yet somewhat contradictory and complex, in terms of diversity, affluence, entitlement and power. There’s recognition of the problems that must be tackled, but with an assurance of peace, calm, and the display of national esteem and pride. I’m sure to be in that 48%.
Here, commitment to Americanism remains fierce, as well, but our country is facing some growing pains. The hardships we face only refine our gem. And, as we polish it, we must also continually ask ourselves: Can we reinforce our pledge to legitimate dialogue, honesty, fairness and respect? Can we peacefully coexist, in spite of differences? Can we bring back more contentment, rather than contention? After all, who are we?