It was early the next morning when I felt the death of Joe Kesselly which was the day after his burial. When I was at his widow Kathleen’s residence her three children were playing outside the house. The atmosphere at their Bushrod Island home was quiet.
“How is it going with you, Kathleen?” my voice was evidently hollow, for the incident of my friend’s death and the result of emptiness that followed had filled me with disgust. I knew his widow was going through more painful moments than I was feeling.
“We are trying,” Kathleen said, pulling a chair for me to sit near the window in the room.
Suddenly a pang of fear gripped me as my mind reflected on the death of my friend. Though his sudden death was not due to being an Ebola victim, the authorities refused to release his body for the normal grieving period and then burial. But was I angry because his remains would be cremated? No, on my life.
“Jimmy,” she said, Kathleen’s eyes wide as tears began to gather, “my husband does not even have a grave…” I did not want her to get me into tears, for I knew I should remain stronger at this particular time to offer some comfort out of this tragedy.
“I can understand how you feel, Kathleen,” I made an attempt to encourage her but I knew that though her late husband was my friend, I could never feel how much she was feeling. “Think about the children and be ready to stand up for them.”
With her teary eyes, she said, “I am trying, Jimmy,” and she looking at me directly she nodding, and grabbed the edge of her lappa and mopped the tears from her eyes.
“Sometimes,” she said, “I feel so weak.” That was true and anyone who had suffered the recent Ebola scourge could testify to that, for the desolation and depopulation of Liberia was far beyond anyone’s expectation. What compounded our experience was the increase in the number of victims.
“It is a national tragedy,” I told her, “but I am convinced that there is a tragedy that should have some meaning for all of us.” She looked away, and it was like she did not care about what I was talking about.
“I don’t like to listen to the radio these days,” she said, “and neither do I want to read newspapers with pictures of suspected Ebola victims…they make me feel so bad.”
“I know how difficult it is for all of us,” I said, with assurance, “but we must remember that there is God who cares about us.”
Looking me in the face, Kathleen asked, “Where is he?”
“Where is who?”
Her question, as a result of my mentioning God’s name, pushed me to the wall. I began to examine her question in my mind: Where is God? Did he care about us? If yes, how should we understand this tragedy in the wake of our desolation? I could not resign myself to frustration and therefore went ahead with some well-thought out ideas.
“I know you may have heard about revelations by some churches that the current tragedy is here due to some sins we have committed,” I said.
“But,” she retorted, “is that not true?”
“Not really true in the complete sense of what some people may claim to have received revelations or visions,” I said, being careful not to create any disaffection with her.
Moving away towards a chair in the center of the room, she said, “Are problems in this country not grave enough to bring God’s anger on us?”
It was interesting to me because she was making sense of the tragic situation in the country and its attendant deaths, but to reason that there were crimes enough in the country that might have engineered the current crisis was beyond me.
I said, “Kathleen that there are corruption and other problems in Liberia there is no question about them as they are in other countries.
“I’m sure you are also aware that there are countries in the world that have made it legal for a man and a man to marry and a woman and a woman to marry?”
“Yes,” she said.
“And this is a practice that many Christians will never agree to doing in this country since the Bible reports the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah when residents there engaged in such a practice.”
“And yet such nations are some of the wealthiest that many of want to run to. But at the same time they may have their own problems but not the kind of destruction that we are going through with others claiming it might be of God’s anger against us.”
“I think you’re right about that.” I was glad I was making sense of my position and gradually drawing her up to appreciate the source of the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia.
By now I felt my legs were getting heavy and therefore I lifted myself from the chair and began to walk about the room. At the counter at the far corner of the room, I picked up an old newspaper, and began to thump through it and shockingly I saw pictures, copied from the internet of Ebola victims in the Congo.
“Kathleen,” I said, “It will be unfair for God to punish us, simply because some Liberians are involved in the subject we talked about.
“Please remember that when the angels were sent to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah Abraham was able to get God to agree not to destroy the two cities if there were five righteous men in the two cities.”
“Yes,” she said, “I remember that.”
“Therefore,” I said, “while the presence of Ebola virus in Liberia is too much for us, it is also in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Nigeria and Senegal. It does not make sense for us in Liberians to conclude that we are suffering because of our sins.”
“You make a good point there,” she remarked, and with a smile, said, “it is therefore reasonable to conclude that while many of us have lost loved ones, it is not God who is punishing us.”
“I kind of agree with you,” Kathleen said. I then saw the opening, and admitted, “Exactly the point,” I said, “So while we are faced with such a tragic situation, the best we can do is to remain comforted and determined to fight it to the end, using our five senses.
“Many others may die but that should not weaken our determination to follow all recommendations put out by the medical community.”
In the end I was happy that I had brought some sunshine in her life. And pushing the matter further, I placed emphasis on an important area that I was convinced could comfort her more.
“Kathleen,” I said, “you are aware that several families are destroyed by the Ebola virus and you might have heard about the Imam whose body was bathed and the devout members used the water to wash their faces for blessing that led to their deaths?”
“I am aware of that,” she said with murmur.
“Should it not give you the more reason to be thankful to God?”
“I think you’re right,” she said, “by following the instructions released by the medical community.”
“You’re right about that,” I commended her, “The fight against the Ebola virus is not over and with our country receiving global support we should be able to defeat the virus very soon.
“Our attitude must be to remain positive that we can overcome this tragedy by working along with the authorities to ensure we are successful in the end.”
Kathleen moved to sit on the chair next to mine and I saw a smile wedged at the corner of her mouth. I could not fail to recognize the apparent clarity that she had gained at the end of our discussion, and she promised to join the fight to save what was left of Liberia.