The "If Poem" - Reflections of a Young Man™

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The "If Poem"

On the right side in this photo is the stately Starehe Boys' library in which the "If Poem" is framed and pinned. Imagine I never took time to read and reflect on the poem during my entire more than five years in the school; a further proof that we can swim in the Sea of Knowledge all day and still come out dry!

Apart from three quotes he had emblazoned on the door of the halls of Starehe Boys' Centre, Dr. Griffin also aspired to inspire the students of the school he founded by having the "If Poem" by Rudyard Kipling framed and pinned in the school library. I personally never took time to read and reflect on the words of the poem during my entire years at Starehe, even when one John Odor forced me at one time to write it three times as a punishment for not penning a letter to the wonderful American who sponsored my stay at Starehe.

It was only a couple of years later during my first year at JKUAT that I began to reflect on the words of the poem. I found it so inspiring that I memorized it when we broke for holidays after my first year at that university. For some reasons though, I have long since lost my ability to recall the poem word for word, but at least I have strived to live it. You see, there is nothing exceptional about memorizing the poem; what is exceptional is living it.

Allow me to reproduce the poem below without fear of prosecution since its copyright time-frame has expired. I urge you to read it even if you know it but this time, try to reflect on the parts you have succeeded to implement in your life and the parts you still need to work on:
If you can keep your head when all about you,
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream - and not make dreams your master;
If you can think - and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster,
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken,
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings,
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings,
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you,
Except the Will which says to them: 'Hold on!'

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute,
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!
Of course I can't tell whether you have managed to re-read the poem word for word. As for me, I have gone through it again. And I am glad to report that I have been doing a pretty good job in living it for the past two years. I can't help but believe that I will soon be the kind of man the poem extols. So help me God.


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Visiting My Mentors

This is me last Sunday with my piano mentor, Prof. Charles Nyamiti, in the mess of Apostles of Jesus Major Seminary in Lang'ata, Nairobi.

As I wrote in my previous story about listening to the heart, I usually know my plans are right and proper when I wake up effortlessly in the morning with an eagerness to accomplish what I had planned. So when I woke up last Sunday effortlessly early in the morning, I knew it was wise of me to visit Fr. Peter Assenga and Prof. Charles Nyamiti, my piano mentors, at their place of residence in the Apostles of Jesus Major Seminary at Lang'ata, Nairobi just as I had planned the day before.

I arrived at the seminary at around 9.50am in buoyant spirits, only to be told Fr. Assenga was officiating a mass and Prof. Nyamiti was resting. But that didn't dent my spirits because I enjoyed waiting for them on the verandah of the seminary's library where I struck a conversation with some young men who tickled my fancy when they told me God ended the world; it's only that He forgot to come for His people.

Fr. Assenga did finally finish officiating the mass after which I went to meet him. He looked elated to see me, and he must have sensed I was equally elated to see him because he remarked that I looked radiant and healthy. We exchanged a few pleasantries as we walked on one of the cloisters of the seminary on our way to meet Prof. Nyamiti, a priest who bears some resemblance with Mwai Kibaki - the widely-respected third president of the Republic of Kenya, my Motherland.

As luck would have it, we met Prof. Nyamiti heading to the mess of the seminary for his mid-morning tea. So that he could attend to a pressing task, Fr. Assenga left the two of us together.

Prof. Nyamiti couldn't recall my name, so I had to refresh his memory by reminding him of my moniker and by showing him a photo we took together back in 1999 accessible by clicking here. I succeeded in refreshing his memory.

Then as we headed to the mess, he told me of his health problems that include arthritis on his right knee. And when he told me he is 85 years, I quickly remembered Dr. Griffin, the founder of Starehe Boys' Centre, telling us during one baraza that a man is supposed to live for 70 years and any more years than that are just a bonus from God. So I discerned an opportunity to make Prof. Nyamiti feel grateful.

"Someone once told us," I told Prof. Nyamiti, "that a man is supposed to live for 70 years and any more years than that are just a bonus from God."

"Yes!" Prof. Nyamiti agreed, "Even the Bible says so."

Haiya! I didn't know that statement by Dr. Griffin is in the Bible in spite of having studied it from preface to index. And I actually confirmed it from Google that the Bible says so in Psalm 90:10; a further testament that my memory is not as sharp as some people claim it is.

We continued our delightful conversation in the mess where I partook a cup of tea and bread lined with honey, the kind of breakfast I'd like to be having when I build my own home, God-willing. I updated him as we took tea on what I am up to these days. And he in turn regaled me with a few stories like of him hearing Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, sing a Tanzanian folk song.

All told, Sunday was a splendid day for me. And I am hoping to create more such days in the future. So help me God.


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Listening to the Heart

When I dropped out of JKUAT peacefully on August '09, I decided to re-apply to top American colleges for the third time. I just couldn't put aside my dream of studying in the United States, the most successful nation in history and the land of most of my heroes.

But unlike when I applied to American colleges in '06 in my days at Starehe Institute, this time in '09 I wasn't psyched up in submitting my applications. I dozed while revising for the SAT exam. It was like my brain was insisting on applying but my heart was refusing.

And because the top American colleges stated in their colourful brochures that they admitted students of exceptional zeal and energy, little wonder that I was again rejected by all the colleges I applied for admission. See?

That was however not the last time I decided to pursue something I wasn't psyched up for. I did it again when I vied for a political seat in the '13 Kenya's General Elections. Okay, let me narrate briefly how it went.

At first, I intended to vie for a senatorial seat which was way too high an ambition that some of my friends derided me about it. I eventually scaled down my ambition to running for a county representative seat, the lowest elective post in Kenya.

That evening I informed my circle of friends that I had scaled down on my political ambition, I felt so happy and greatly relieved that I thought I would clinch the seat as easily as the way a monkey climbs an iroko tree. Or the way a tilapia fish swims in Lake Victoria.

But alas! I failed to summon the mojo and charisma to wake up early everyday to go campaign and solicit for votes during the electioneering period. Even on the election day, I didn't go to vote because my self-esteem was too low to withstand seeing my name on the ballot as a political candidate. In short, my political ambition was a disaster.

And what have I ended up learning from those failures? That I should learn to listen to my heart by ignoring what it hates and pursuing what it loves even when I don't know where the path may lead.

These days, when I plan to do something like meeting someone the following day and I wake up effortlessly feeling psyched up, then I know I am about to do the right thing. But if I wake up with difficulty feeling like someone who has just been told he has HIV, then I know am about to do the wrong thing.


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