Sunday, April 21, 2024

Digging his way through life


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On a steamy weekday morning, sitting under the shade of a tree in the graveyard of St George’s Parish Church, a gravedigger is spewing forth words of wisdom.
Gandhi Wood, a name widely known in the parish, is talking about his life of digging graves and serving God, performing the role of lesson reader in the church and doing “summuch other things around St George Parish Church”.
He is an enigma. In his 30s, he gave up a job in Government as a records clerk in the Public Works Department, where he had worked for about six years, deciding he wanted freedom and the life of a gravedigger.
“Collar and tie people does fool themselves. You see, when you are working in the open atmosphere, you can think about so much things at one time. In most of these other jobs, you have to be thinking about the particular job. You can’t be working and thinking about something else. This is why a lot of them does have so much strain, because the job does not let them get any recreation,”
Wood told the SUNDAY?SUN. He was sitting on the side of a grave, across from an open one which he was in the process of digging.
But why gravedigging?
“I just like it,” he replied.
“For one, it brings me in touch with the real people. In most other jobs, you got to meet people on a particular basis . . . . If you meet a sales manager, you got to meet him as sales, but I meet people as themselves and you would be surprised about how they are.
“The experience of having to bury their dead, when they realize where they going, it brings them to Christian feelings.”
Wood grew up near St George’s Parish Church and has worshipped there all his life.
“I am a church man. I believe in God. I am a very active church man,” he stressed, going on to hint at the snobbery he experienced over the years
while working as gravedigger outside the church and serving as lesson reader inside. Some people apparently had difficulty relating the former job to the latter responsibility.
“You find some people in life who can’t give themselves the next meal and they think that somebody else is inferior to them. When I realize that the Almighty God has so much time for me, when you realize that He will hear you and entertain you, when He got summuch time for you, and He is the one who has everything and dem hungry people don’t even want to entertain you, you shouldn’t fall out with God.”
As Wood plunges his long iron drill into the earth, digging away to provide the hole for yet another casket, his mind is constantly focused on other thoughts.
“I think about life in general and how people behave. When you realize that this flesh will go – this flesh is nothing but the breath and however important a fellow may be, if he doesn’t have breath, he is nothing – you come to a human understanding of what we really are.”
Wood learnt the art of gravedigging from another ravedigger. He recalled the experience of digging his first grave and the feeling of accomplishment when the job was completed. Today, people say he is the best gravedigger in St George, since he is also known for the work he has done in the graveyards of St Jude’s and St Augustine’s Anglican churches.
He holds the secrets of the craft close to his chest and contradicted the long-held claim that a grave must be six feet deep. Instead, he pointed out a grave should be “more than four feet deep” and six feet in length.
“You have to get a grave to fit the casket . . . . Years ago, they used to come and measure the deceased body and build a coffin to fit it.”
In modern times, however, with coffins and caskets built to standardized sizes, Wood explained there was also standardization in grave sizes, with exceptions when warranted.
He pointed out the gravedigger today is also aided by technology and no longer has to persevere with cutting though hard stone with the iron drill. 
From time to time, in the process of digging, Wood may unearth some bones.
Claiming to be “from the table of decency” he said: “I bring some decency to the thing. I put the bones together and they will be deposited in a decent way.”
The tall, bearded father does not discuss family, though laughing in response to the question about family life and children, he said: “All I can tell you is I have many [children].”
Wood is a deep thinker, and a philosopher at heart. He reads voraciously and can always quote from a book to elucidate a point in discussion.
Any day on the job, one is sure to find one or two books in his work bag. Don’t be misled by the cover though, for under it lies engaging titles that reflect the depth of thought by a man who people have at times dismissed as “just a gravedigger”.
On the day of the interview, he was carrying a copy of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, a Christian allegory regarded as one of the most significant works of religious English literature, and another religious book. He referred to them both while mentioning man’s frailty.
In the discussion on his faith, he talked about “Baalistic worship” which he explained as “worshipping the perishable”, a feature that is “very strong in our community”.
And he warned: “The perishable can only take from you. It does not give.”
But there is also a witty side to this Gun Hill, St George resident.
I winced and shrieked at the sharp sting of an ant during the interview and without missing a beat, Wood broke into laughter and remarked: “You see the ants interfering with you? These fellows bury ’bout here don’t skylark. One of the fellows down there approaching you. You really got them spellbound; they really dealing with you in truth. They biting you.”


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