by IfeOluwa Nihinlola
Part VII of VIII: Grand Schemes
A friend visited me a few weeks after I got home, and while staring from the sofa at my shrunk self, trying to make conversation, he asked, “So how was your valley experience?” He knew he had little chance of getting an answer from me while speaking christianese so blatantly. I’ve come to dislike any form of cliché, really, because I think choosing to stick to worn-out descriptions every time something happens feels like short-changing those experiences. How am I supposed to be a better version of myself if all of my speech and thought is simply handed down, and I never make the effort to describe things in terms that feel true? I also think it is sometimes cowardly. We’d rather hide under the perceived solace of those words, for each utterance comes with associations (there’s a pool of water in the valley) that we’d rather stay with than describe things we are really going through and face them no matter how bleak they might seem.
A few days later, in the presence of another friend who asked a similar question, he would later comment, “Don’t worry. We know he will write about it.”
This assumption that I’ll always be eager to write about things that happen to me is as wrong as it is common. The thought that people who share their writing in public spaces are also ever eager to offer their most private lives (or strip naked, like I prefer to say), is ever present. It is why some friends hold back from sharing stories with their writer friends for fear that they’ll be ratted out before the world, while some others do share in hope that they’ll be written about. While it is true that I do write about things as they happen to me and share them on my blog or on Facebook as I like, I’ve never had a desire to share everything. Silence is my default (I can never say this enough).
I go through life framing things as they happen to me into narratives, forming meta-connections in my head, and even editing them before I put pen to paper. But finding the appropriate audience has always been more daunting. I am more eager to share things with a friend on Whatsapp, or Messenger, or to email them (emails are the best), than put it on a blog where the whole world has access to it.
Also implicit in my friend’s dissembling, in his tying of my condition to a ‘valley’ experience, is the idea that there’s something to be learned/gained from it. A lot of people are interested in the lesson to be learnt from other people’s life events, as if our lives are always like the tales of Ijapa and Yannibo with an obvious moral lesson waiting at the end of the story. These past months, more than any other time in my life, I’ve heard people say to me, “This is happening for a reason. There’s a greater purpose to it.” But the more people I heard say that, the more I thought to myself, what if this doesn’t fit into any grand scheme? What if it’s an entirely preventable thing that has happened and has no purpose beyond being a setback?
The problem with the thought above is that it rarely stops at that. One starts to question all of life. Is there any purpose to our entire existence? Is there any other moment apart from now that I should be paying attention to? Of course I do believe there’s a reason I’m here, breathing and not a motionless bag of bones lying on a table or supported entirely by beeping machines while waiting for a time of death to be announced.
There’s a chance that even an event that presents itself solely as a setback can end up being in the service of some later, greater, good. It was okay if the people who threw those statements at me knew me in genuine ways, and still held hope that everything was going to be all right. But to have people who just said it because that was the thing to say was often quite annoying. I guess this goes back to clichés, to wishing people put a little more thought into the things they said and not parrot them because they were the normal thing to say.
I had no answers from my friend at the time. And while the physical details of my condition were obtainable from other sources even more reliable than I, I wasn’t ready to the share the contents of my mind in public. One thing I however managed to learn, relearn, and am eager to share is tied to the funky Imam whose popular but salty quip has remained a mantra for the past few months: Èèyán le kú any ——- time. Or to translate that with a thought from the poet Jim Harrison: death is always but a block away and could knock- anytime.
Last- VI: Things we said by the bedside
Next- Part VIII of VIII
Image credit: Michal Zacharzewski, SXC