A Tribute to Johnny Barnes
Webster’s defines the word salutation as, “The act of greeting someone.” Another as “a gesture or utterance made as an acknowledgment of another's arrival or departure.”
In today’s ever more bustling world, the simple act of greeting another person can be easily lost in the movements of the day.
There’s something to be said about the physical acknowledgement of one’s person by another. You feel it, when someone (as we Bermudians so colloquially like to say) ‘hails you up’ from half way down the street, or when someone who you haven’t seen in weeks, hugs you, or when someone tells you, “You look great!”, or “Have a wonderful day!", or “I love you.” It changes the trajectory of your day, if even slightly.
Johnny Barnes was a man of many things, but most memorable was his deliberate quest to change the trajectory of our days. At the busiest hours, at the cross section that bleeds into our city where Crow Lane becomes a congestion of engines; where all morning commuters making their way to town, to work, to school, found Johnny Barnes physically acknowledging their days. It was there that he manned a post now iconic for some 30 years. It was there that his avid mission to throw out “Good Mornings” and “I love yous,” became an ritual of the morning for a few thousand people. On this island it is practice to compose manners and civilities. Our culture can be said to have been bred on these now reflex mannerisms. The ‘Good Mornings”, “Good Afternoons,” and “Good Evenings.” If Johnny Barnes was anything, it was the manifestation of our cultural norm, in ceremonious politeness he found a way to preserve the very foundation of our simplest most eloquent interactions with each other.
And we know the story well enough, he rose early in the morning, he walked for a few miles, he stood at his post, waved, shouted out, smiled, and then after a few hours he left and re-started the next day.
Last week Johnny Barnes succumbed to the humanness that eventually envelopes all of us. He will no longer be at his post, he will no longer wave and greet commuters in the morning, he will no longer stand as the physical embodiment of acknowledgment to our days. But what he leaves, hopefully is lasting.
It’s 2016. And in 2016 we’ve experienced the slow haunt of the elegy too many times already. Globally we’ve mourned Ali, Bowie, Prince and many MANY men & women publicly slaughtered and brandished on CNN. On island we’ve mourned our own heroes and loved ones as families, communities and largely whole as a nation. 2016 has thus far been a year in which our capacities for pain have been actively tested. We are hurting. And here in 2016 we predominantly exist in a silo of blue screen glow and binary code. Where people who deconstruct and debate things have already deconstructed and debated as to how much of a ‘head down’ generation we (predominantly) millennials are. How we’re rarely ever looking up because, honestly, we really don’t have to. We gather all of our information and communication and salutations via the computers we carry with us. It’s a wonder we don’t crave the warmth of human interaction that can’t really be replicated the same way in a text, or tweet, or voice-note.
Today, on this day, in this futuristic time that we live in, we lay to rest a man who spent no less then 4 hours a day in an effort to recognise the existence of people he only knew through the combined experience of our shared home. I hope we remember the importance of his quest. To greet someone is to see them, to make known their presence and to ratify its existence in this life. I hope that we look up from time to time, from our various screens, and that we exercise the reflex of mannerism in our Bermudian bones, that we remember how beautiful it is to occupy this space, of living. I hope that we hold the salutation with as much fanfare and care, that Mr. Barnes did. Because it matters and it feels good and it is in our duty as humans in this experience to remind each other of the simplest beauties. Johnny Barnes knew that, he exuded that, he lived that. So today, we return the salutation, a wave to a man whose wrists knew no other movement better.
And, don’t worry, it really isn’t goodbye it’s, “Good Morning,” “Have a great day,” “I love you.”