We are therefore in gratitude and love for the life of a woman by most standards remarkable, by any standards lovable, and by all human standards good.
Many in our community, probably most, and conceivably all, were more closely associated than I with Aunty Dayo Jones’ life and therefore better qualified than I to assess it. But from 1984 when she offered me and my family accommodation at her Latrikunda compound where we lived with her daughter, Eliza, and the other members of the family on their visits onwards, I knew her as Aunty Dayo: kind, generous and understanding. Presumably it is in this regard that I pay this tribute to her memory. I was proud of her association, her courage, her warmth and her embracing sense of moving ahead together. Uncle Sam has, of course, been a mentor to me who has always given me wise counsel since the 1960s.
I think first of her courage. Physical and moral courage, by which I mean the willpower necessary to give mind the mastery over matter on the one hand and a commitment to the tradition of excellence on the other were, I am inclined to think, the foundation of her whole character. Aunty Dayo Jones was an unmistakable presence – a woman of strong personality, strong views and strong loyalties, loyalties to her family, to her home, to her country, and to the whole world around her.
This courage never deserted her. Though the end when it came was not unexpected, her courage treated it as a challenge rather than as an affliction, and the power which it gave her to work her body unmercifully may have betrayed her in the end. No one who saw the extent to which she drove herself in the last few years could fail to wonder how she could possibly maintain the pace and no one now, reflecting upon her death, can fail to speculate how far her resistance may have been undermined by the tremendous impetus she maintained year after year. But it would have been unlike Aunty Dayo to spare herself. The astonishing thing is that she never permitted the immense strain under which she compelled herself to live and work to show in any loss of patience or understanding towards the host of those whose needs she sought to serve.
Death was nothing she feared. She often described it as a natural culmination of life as we know it and an expression of indescribable joy: the release from the bondage of life brings with it an ecstasy and an understanding beyond anything known to living human kind. And “what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered” says the great Lebanese poet, Kahlil Gibran. Jean Paul Satre, the great existentialist French philosopher was indeed right: “Life is a sentence of death”.
I have already mentioned Aunty Dayos’ gaiety, her sense of fun. No one enjoyed life more than she did. The things that she enjoyed were the good things of life – sunshine and fresh air, friendship and family, garden and country, the company and the laughter of children, the unending fascination of human idiosyncrasy. Joy, we are assured, is one of the chief fruits of the spirit. Aunty Dayo’s simple gaiety was undoubtedly a mark of holiness.
I think next of her unaffected goodness. Goodness is not an easy thing to define, for it is not a quality. It is an orientation of the whole being. Despite limitations and defects of character, each of us in our own individual, uniquely different way can be good. Very few of us are. Even ordinary good men and good women are not so common that their passing can go unremarked.
But Aunty Dayo’s simple goodness was not ordinary. Hers was anima naturaliter, as perhaps at bottom all human souls are. But in her it was the combination of this natural goodness with the acquired determination that goodness should not perish from the earth, that light should conquer darkness, that sinners should repent and be redeemed and that perfectability should in the end become perfection.
She was untroubled by doubts about the nature of goodness and in this surely she was wise. It does not need a philosopher to tell right from wrong, courage from cowardice, integrity from deviousness, kindness from cruelty, purity from its opposite. If it did, it would be a poor lookout for most of us.
But most of us are inhibited by modesty or shame from becoming open advocates of goodness. Perhaps we are afraid of unction or hypocrisy or too conscious of our own shortcomings.
Aunty Dayo answered the voice she heard because she was good. She saw in clear terms the essential drama of the individual’s life, the pity of it and the terror of it, the ceaseless longing of it for redemption. She saw clearly that life is never the tragic-comedy so often portrayed. Strip off the mask, remove the wrappings of self-protection and it is sheer melodrama—poignant as tragedy, heroic as epic, demanding compassion, capable of triumph, threatened with disaster, but never trivial, never to be written down as absurd, never more perilous than when dull, never more tragic that when played flippantly. She knew that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety-nine just persons. This is what added the earnestness and force to a character full of natural virtue.
We can therefore remember with gladness as well as sorrow the Aunty Dayo we knew. Here there were no sins unrepented and therefore none unforgiven. Here there were no opportunities missed, no qualities unrealised to the full. If ever a woman went to her Maker with her baptismal robe restored to its original freshness, surely it was Aunty Dayo.
We all will also remember, Aunty Dayo Jones as a trailblazer of worthy causes, a loving wife, devoted mother and dedicated member of a distinguished family whose exemplary kindness to, and courage in defence of, the poor, the sick, and the underdog, was legendary even in her own life time.
She was a worshipper of liberty, a friend of the oppressed; for whom justice all places a temple; all seasons, summer; happiness the only good; reason the only torch; humanity, the only religion; and love, the only priest.
By her loss, the family and those who knew her have been deprived of a great pillar, a fine gentle lady and a kind person and we all join Uncle Sam, Kenneth, Cyril, Eliza, Henriatta and the entire Jones family both here in The Gambia and abroad, in remembering a very loyal and loving wife, dear mother and great hearted gentle woman.
We may comfort ourselves with the thought of the vision of the Divine, the beatific vision which makes us forever happy, with the sight face to face of what we see through a glass darkly. We may talk, as we do, to one another about the communion of saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting but somehow nothing really blunts the pain of parting.
I do not think we need be ashamed of this. When Jesus was told of the death of Lazarus, he did not lift up his eyes to heaven and say, “Thank God, Lazarus is in heaven”. Jesus wept and because he had the power, he summoned his friend back from the tomb. Perhaps for the human reason that he loved him and he wanted him back.
The pain of parting is the price we pay for love. It is a high price but those who have paid it never regret their bargain, however often it may be repeated in their lives. All the same when a dear one passes, though there is always pain, there is consolation. We thank God for a life well spent; and in our Aunty Dayo’s case, very well spent, and in her case, too, very greatly enjoyed.
We may therefore be allowed to tell one another that somewhere in the universe our Aunty Dayo still exists at peace, we may be sure, but not perhaps wholly at rest, for inaction would be strangely unlike her. In the mysterious interplay of the seen and the unseen which we call the communion of saints, somehow, somewhere, it is permitted us to believe she still shares with us and our Maker the unending task of the redemption of the world. Our Aunty Dayo’s charm and her grace will withstand the corrosion of time and at the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember her.
By FaFa Edrissa M’Bai, a family friend]]>