Living Without Nelbert Phillips

Nelbert Philips was a plump 12 year-old sixth grader that constantly projected a mischievous grin that contrasted against his dark complexion. When asked a question, he would tilt his head slightly to the left and ponder your motivation for asking.  Slowly that smile would emerge and his face would expand. Sometimes he would answer, other times he would shy-away and disappear into the background.

   Nelbert’s friends were also the quiet and shy types, more studious, less “troublesome.” On the night of October 30th, Nelbert chose to spend the night with his mother in a house that was too close to the river. He had planned to be with his dad further down the road. Later that night Hurricane Tomas deposited over 24 inches of rain in 20 hours. Raving waters trapped Nelbert and his home was carried away down river.

   Now that school has resumed, the grief is finally being expressed and the loss becoming more evident. Milan, a close friend of Nelbert’s expressed to me his loss while we were walking past the standpipe yesterday. “You know Mr. Kuk, Nelbert was my best friend. I had a dream about him. I was sitting there on the stonewall and Nelbert appeared to me. He said that he was fine and that God had chosen another life for him. I told my mother about the dream. She said it was more than a dream. “What do you think?” asked Milan. “Do you think he will live here in St. Lucia?”

   How does one answer such a poignant question? How do you comfort such a troubled soul? The St. Lucians rarely display empathy. They are very stoic as was apparent when Nelbert and his family were retrieve from the wreckage of their home. Emotions for St. Lucians appear more vocal and volatile over disputes or more joyous and responsive in song and jest. Rarely is there any indication of introspection or consolation.

   Milan is not alone in his thoughts. Only today, another fellow student stopped me on my way home to talk about Nelbert and a passing teacher also shared her concerns about Nelbert and his friends as well. 

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.