Raymond on the peak of
El Tucuche, Nov. 2010
I graduated from high school and went out into the not-so-wide world of work in the same town where I had gone to school, and every once in awhile I'd remember sweet Sister Lucy and resolve to go and visit her. I never got around to it, and when I heard that she had died, along with remorse at my procrastination, I began to understand that for most young people, the reality and inevitability of death is not a concept that can readily be grasped. I realized then that putting off a visit to an elderly person means that when you're ready to make the effort, the person might be gone - forever.
Which brings me to November 2010 and an e-mail I received from an elderly gentleman here in Trinidad. I had written a blog post about hiking my favourite mountain, El Tucuche. He told me he had discovered the post and enjoyed it tremendously because that was also his favourite hike and he had scaled the peak more than 100 times in his ninety years. In fact, he had celebrated his ninetieth birthday just weeks before by climbing El Tucuche once again, a feat that attracted quite a bit of media coverage.
When I finally wrapped my head around what my new friend, Raymond, had achieved, I told him he had become my inspiration: I could think of nothing I'd love more than to be able to repeat his feat if I lived to his age. We began corresponding, found each other on Facebook, and he invited me to join him on his next hike in early 2011. This one would be to Paria Waterfall, a lovely trek along the north coast and into the forest that I had undertaken several times in my earlier hiking years. I decided to work on improving my fitness so that when Raymond and his group next hiked El Tucuche I'd be ready.
The hike to Paria was postponed four times. We had an unseasonably rainy dry season and the weather simply refused to cooperate with our plans. When the hike finally came off I didn't go; Raymond had probably tired of having to call and tell me about postponements and didn't want to disappoint me again. The next time we communicated was in July when my niece graduated and he left a gracious comment on her photo on my Facebook page. By this time the true rainy season was in full pour and hiking was out of the question. The months flew by imperceptibly.
Three weeks ago Raymond contacted me on Facebook and told me he had suffered a heart attack three months before, but was on the mend and spending several days a week in his store. I was assailed by a sense of urgency; I told my friend I'd visit him at his store that week. He said he was looking forward to finally meeting me face to face. I asked if he would be at the store on Thursday or Friday. When two days passed and I did not hear from him I felt a deep foreboding. That Friday night I left a message on his page: "Well, maybe another week. Thinking of you and hoping you're okay, Raymond." The next time I visited his Facebook page I learned he had died on November 10, three days after his ninety-first birthday.
It felt like Sister Lucy all over again. I will never be able to hike and not think of Raymond pounding those trails in his nineties. He is indeed my inspiration to seize the day and to understand that living fully has no correlation with the number of birthdays accumulated.
Write that book. Sail that ocean. Climb those mountains; Raymond climbed them at 90.
In memory of Raymond "Don Ramos" Banfield, hiker, former Spanish teacher and vice-principal of Presentation College, mentor of many, practitioner of healthy living. I will climb El Tucuche again, and I know he'll be walking right there beside me.