By Matthew Woolford
According to local writer and historian, Gerard Besson, and as posted on the website of the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, “Lapeyrouse cemetery in Port of Spain is one of the best examples of this country’s cosmopolitan population…. there are rows of graves with Chinese inscriptions as well as small mansions for the French aristocratic dead. Elegant monuments commemorate the more conservative British and imposing rotundas and tall obelisks eminent Freemasons of a different century.”
Somewhere along 18th Street of this vast burial ground, in the vicinity of the ‘big, palm tree’, lies a singular grave bearing the names of, and shared by, both my maternal grandparents.
Not being alive for our grandfather’s funeral and unable to attend Granny’s because of the national border closure brought on by the spread of Covid-19 in 2020, my cousin, Jonathan, who lives in North Carolina, USA was visiting Trinidad for Christmas 2022, and was eager to visit their grave site.
After buying a bouquet of chrysanthemums at a Woodbrook flower shop, we jumped into a taxi together and headed toward the Phillip Street, Port of Spain location.
It was there, at the grave site of Cecil and Myrtle Williams, that I had one of my best Christmas experiences ever! At the sight of their names and on the contemplation of their memory, tears automatically began to fall from my eyes. I soon realised that they were not dead, at least not to me. Their bodies may have decayed, just as mine will someday, but their spirits were palpably alive and well.
St Paul in his first letter to the good people of Corinth, pondered, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?… thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:55–57).
And this, I am now beginning to understand, is why Christmas and family shall forever be linked, and why The Feast of the Holy Family has been beautifully and strategically placed within the Octave of Christmas.
Too often, the narrative surrounding Christmas goes no further than to remind us that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem (Lk 2:4–7) and that He faced persecution from Herod just days after His birth (Mt 2:1–18).
While I accept these dogmas to be true, deeper catechetics also instruct on the silver lining amidst the trauma and drama of our Saviour’s birth.
Jesus was born into a family, and it was Holy! It was tested by divorce (Mt 1:19) and attempted murder (Mt 2:16), and it remained faithful and flexible, allowing the Voice of God to speak loudest within each crisis.
Was He not (just) the carpenter’s son?
Matthew 13:55 has alluded that St Joseph was a carpenter. But was there a higher meaning?
In one translation of Miyamoto Misashi’s The Book of Five Rings, Thomas Cleary translated, “The carpenter is used as a metaphor…The word for carpenter is written with characters meaning ‘great skill’ or ‘master plan’…Efficiency and smooth progress, prudence in all matters, recognizing true courage, recognizing different levels of morale, instilling confidence, and realizing what can and cannot be reasonably expected- such are the matters on the mind of the master carpenter.”
On no fewer than three occasions did St Joseph discern God’s will before executing a brilliant plan:
• The decision to take Mary as his wife (Mt 1:19–21)
• The flight to Egypt (Mt 2:13–15)
• The decision to go to Nazareth (Mt 2:19–23)
The virtue of reflective thinking
Luke 2:8–18 recounts that the angels relayed news of the Birth of Jesus to the shepherds. The shepherds went as far as Bethlehem to confirm what they heard, and all were astonished by their story.
As for Mary, “she treasured all these messages and continually pondered over them” (Lk 2:19). Twelve years later, at the ‘Finding in the Temple’, Luke reported “she kept all these things in her heart” (Lk 2:51).
My own two cents
Family life, from my own experiences, is challenging. Expectations grow as wild and freely as the grass, and solutions often seem so few and far between. Leo Tolstoy famously wrote at the beginning of Anna Karenina that “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
I would only qualify my interpretation of this statement with my personal belief that happiness is a choice and love, an obligation.
I am not perfect and no one in my family would say that I am but I have seen what Josephine obedience and Marian reflection can do for a family: it builds patience and humility.
It feels good to be part of a family, at Christmas and beyond, and it feels even better to grow in the awareness of that goodness.