I will start the New Year with a couple of narratives. My favourite haunt is the place I play squash twice, three times a week. It is also a place I savour indulgences far beyond the exertions of squash. A few years back, two young women with similar, yet distinct circumstances frequented the club. They both at the time, had two children. Both were married but in name only as they carried the financial burdens of their homes. The husband of one had lost his job and was finding a ‘befitting job’ hard to get. The husband of the other had relocated abroad but ‘forgot’ to send back some dollars to feed his family.
They were both light complexioned and very pretty which means that should they wish, they could easily twist many men round their little fingers. One came mainly for business. She sold fruit juices. Her name was Confidence. It was a befitting name as she went about her marketing duties with a confidence that belied her little education. She could also easily have been called Happiness because she was always cheerful. Her job was to convince sweaty players to gulp her cold drinks and this she did with panache and a smile.
The other one was more educated and she came for business and pleasure. Her pleasure which seemed more important to her, was to play squash while her business was to sell intricately made ‘adire’ materials. I always felt she could have achieved more on the business side because her wares were unique. Besides, they were made by her. They both suffered a misfortune. Their homes were gutted by fire about the same time. Confidence bore her woes stoically and came to work within a few days.
She told whoever tried to commiserate with her that her household things were old and worn out anyway, and she was sure God wanted to replace them. The other lady became withdrawn almost to the point of depression. She stopped coming to play. To those who reached out to her, she lamented the injustice of a God who knew her situation and yet allowed the fire to wipe her out. No one needs a soothsayer to tell who came out of the fire incident stronger.
A middle aged man sat back to reflect the year just gone. It seemed a momentous year for him. It was the year he retired from paid employment. It was also the year in which his father died, his son had an accident, the family car involved was a write-off and on top of it all, he had a painful surgery. As he captured it all in his diary, he became sad.
He concluded it was a bad year. His wife of many years came in, saw her husband looking pensive and walked over to the table to have a glance at the diary. She left the room wordlessly to write her own version of the year’s event. She saw her husband’s retirement as an opportunity for him to try those things he had always wanted to do but never seemed to have the time for. Her father-law’s death at 90 as an opportunity to thank the Lord that he didn’t suffer unduly and was not a burden on his children. She chose to praise God for the accident that didn’t take her son’s life and enumerated the lessons learnt from it. In her reckoning, God blessed her son with a new life.
She opted to look up to God for a better family car to replace the ‘malfunctioning’ one involved in the accident. She also thanked God for a successful surgery which finally eliminated the years of pain her husband had been going through as a result of an ailment. Her conclusion was that it was a good year. Same incidents, different viewpoints. The man used the incidents to see the year as half empty, the wife as half full. The moral of the story according to the narrator, is that it is not happiness that makes us grateful but gratefulness that makes us happy. Another writer once noted that an attitude of gratitude releases an inner joy within us.
Can we therefore dare re-arrange the year in the light of these two narratives? Is it possible to see some good in the cards that life dealt us last year? The loss of a loved one; the loss of a job; the break-up of a marriage; the discovery of a painful tumour; the betrayal of a trusted confidant; the collapse of a dream.
All these are ‘par for the course’ in an average year and many of us would have had one or two of these challenges last year. But an incident or two no matter how dominant they were, should not becloud us to the good in the rest of the year and the many gifts we take for granted chief of which is the gift of life. The Yoruba belief is that God will always leave a window of gratitude in any situation. It is for us to have the presence of mind and the humility to see it.
Besides, our faith—Islam or Christianity—avows the goodness of God in all situations. And like Collin Powel once said: “It always looks better in the morning.” In other words, nothing is as disastrous as it first seems. ‘Bi ao ku ise kotan’ is a Yoruba proverb which translates roughly to mean it is not over until it is over. And for as long as there is life, it can never be over. We should learn to take some positives in even the negatives of the year and let that positive energy be a strong motivating force as we begin the new year. Also let us be conscious of the fact that the year will bring its own share of losses, disappointments and betrayals. It is how we weigh those ‘impostors’ in the balance of things that will define our year.
As to this new year, a friend of many years sent this to me on first day of the year. ‘2018; Re-examine your beliefs. Pick your battles. Avoid drama. Do unto others as….’ to which I added ‘and count your blessings’ and sent it back to him. Nothing more to add to this advice except that we should depend less on government this year and even less on politicians but more on our innate capabilities to see the opportunities the country presents and on God who is able to ease our pains and bring our positive dreams to fulfilment. But remember, faith works better with action. (James 2: 17,18.) Happy New Year all.