By Muyiwa Adetiba
The late social critic, Dr Tai Solarin, used to greet people every New Year with ‘May your road be rough’. It was a very uncommon form of greeting, and despite his trying to explain it on a national TV, one that never caught on.
As it is, we all feel very comfortable every New Year, with the prophetic greetings of good health, prosperity, promotions etc even when we know that there will be deaths, accidents, and challenges; of finance, of relationships and of family.
As I grow older, I find myself thinking more of Tai Solarin’s form of greeting. Is it better to wish for a utopian life of abundance knowing its not going to happen, or accept the reality of challenges while hoping for God’s grace in handling them. It is futile, I think, to pray for a perfect life in an imperfect world.
Besides, as Saint Paul reasoned in the book of Romans, tribulations and challenges build character. This is what most of us who are trying to shield our children from challenges need to come to terms with. We need to realise that its not only impossible, it is inadvisable to shield them from life’s challenges.
The story of the butterfly and its cocoon illustrates the point admirably. As the story goes, a sympathetic passer-by had seen this young butterfly trying to break loose from its cocoon through a tiny hole that seemed only big enough to take its head and part of his upper body.
To save the butterfly from its exertions and therefore stress, he widened the hole so the butterfly could fly out. To his dismay, the butterfly fell limply to the ground. Unknown to the passer-by, it is in trying to force itself out of the cocoon, that a butterfly strengthens its wings and thus able to soar.
Life’s challenges often come unexpectedly, and it is the character we have built and the grace that we receive, that enable us to face them. I had one of such challenges late last year. It happened on a squash court. Like all mortals, I had the evening neatly planned out. A game, a quick shower, to be followed by drinks with friends, before heading home.
I was barely 10 minutes in the court before disaster struck. I had gone for a ball when I found myself on the ground. I tried to get up but could not. A doctor who had just finished playing was quickly called in and upon a cursory examination, suspected I had ruptured my Achilles tendon.
This was confirmed by an orthopaedic surgeon the following day. The leg was put in a POP cast from the toe to the knee which completely incapacitated it and I dare say, its owner.
This POP, this incapacitation, was to last for all of three months in the first instance.‘Would I be able to drive?’ To which I received a flat no from the doctor. In any case, it turned out to be a superfluous question seeing I could not even make it to the car without support.
Incapacitation of any kind is tough on the mind as anybody who has gone through it will attest to. The more active you are, the more difficult it is to handle.
I called it my three months of detention without trial. I needed crutches for support which meant my hands were unavailable for anything else. I was, for all practical purposes, an invalid. The most difficult thing to handle was the dependence on others. The almost, complete dependence for everything.
Now, five months later, as I limp from place to place, I am grateful for the freedom of movement and the independence it brings. I also realise sadly, that my squash days might be over. But my sporting days need not be. And as some friends had told me in the past ten years, maybe it is time to move over to golf.
Golf, the fastest growing game in the world, is like life. There is no golf course without its hazards. And it seems the more challenging the hazards of a course, the more the faithful flock to the course.
For me however, an embrace of golf is more than an embrace of its hazards. Its an acceptance of the card life has dealt because it means severing myself from a family that I had known for the past 40 years, a fraternity that I had been used to for a completely new family and culture. Its almost like a man leaving a village where he knows virtually everyone for a new, impersonal town. The mere thought of it fills me with trepidation.
But then, that’s life. After all, nobody predicted my accident in the January 2012 New Year greetings but it happened; and it could have been worse. I believe I can deal with this transition because in dealing with these three months of detention, I have found a strength within me that I did not realise I had. Would a seamless life of bliss have done this for me? I doubt.
Oliver Wendell Homes put it succinctly when he said:‘if I find a formula for by passing challenges, I wouldn’t share it. I would not be doing anyone a favour. Challenges create the capacity to handle them.’
Maybe we should go back to Tai Solarin’s new year greetings after all and say, by way of greeting, ‘May your road be rough’.