My Biggest High School Disappointment
A True Story
on Sep 17, 2020
In January 2002 as I commuted home after collecting my Starehe Boys' Centre admission letter, I opened the letter and was pleased to be congratulated for having been accepted at Starehe. The letter went on to inform me that Starehe was part of Roundsquare, a worldwide association of schools. I must have been elated beyond measure to hear such encouraging news about the school I was about to join.
When I enrolled at Starehe for my high school education later on in that month of January, I eventually confirmed that Starehe was indeed a member of Roundsquare. And in those days when I was in the school, Starehe was the only Kenyan institution in the Roundsquare association of schools. I also got to learn that a conference is held every year in one of the Roundsquare schools, and that three third-formers are selected to represent Starehe in the conference.
What's more, I got to understand, without being told, that the Starehe teacher responsible for coordinating Roundsquare activities was Mr. Peter Ndung'u, a no-nonsense kind of a man who used to grow long hair that he combed backwards. During my time in Starehe, Mr. Ndung'u accompanied the third-formers chosen to attend the Roundsquare conference.
In 2002 when I was a first-former, the Roundsquare conference was held in a school in Germany. My immediate elder brother Paddy, who was also in Starehe, was among the three third-formers selected to attend the conference that year. When Paddy jetted back to Kenya from the conference, I heard him speak highly of Germany and all the marvels he had seen there, such as underground railway systems. Attending the conference was a real eye-opener for him.
In 2003 when I was a second-former, the Roundsquare conference was held in a school in South Africa. Perhaps because the school was not far from Kenya, four third-formers (not three) were chosen to attend the conference. One of them was a housemate of mine called James Ebenyo who hailed from an impoverished arid area in northern Kenya.
One evening a day or two after Ebenyo came back from the conference, I happened to walk with him from the dining hall to our dormitory. While we walked, I inquired from him how the conference had been. He responded to my questions with an enthusiasm that evinced how honoured he felt to have flown to South Africa. And when I asked him where the conference would be held the following year, he replied that it had been decided it would be in the United States of America.
I recall feeling delighted to hear from Ebenyo that the 2004 Roundsquare would be in America. Because I would be in third-form that year, I began to harbour hopes and dreams that I would be among the three third-formers picked to attend the conference, just as my brother Paddy had been selected in 2002.
When 2004 came and I became a third-former, I kept aflame my hopes and dreams of flying to America that year. I would sometimes stare at a map of the United States that was hung on a wall in the Starehe Boys' library, and then visualize myself touring some of the states during the Roundsquare conference. Oh, how I longed to fly to America - that rich, developed land of freedom and opportunity!
As my days as a third-former wore on, I kept anticipating being summoned by Mr. Peter Ndung'u to be told I had been picked to attend the Roundsquare conference. That I can recollect dreaming in my sleep on two nights in 2004 of myself touring the United States shows how ardently I desired to attend the conference.
But then came one morning in 2004 when I overheard my deskmate Martin Wamoni mumble something about Roundsquare conference participants in a conversation he was having with my classmate Lawrence Sikuku. I didn't hear clearly what Wamoni said but from the way he looked crestfallen, I instinctively sensed that three third-formers in my year had already been selected to attend the conference.
My instincts were right because a few days later when I asked my brother Paddy which third-formers were flying to America for the conference, he went ahead to apprise me who they were, and I was not one of them. (Paddy was then in Starehe Institute and was part of the team of senior prefects charged with the task of picking the conference participants.)
The news that I hadn't been chosen to attend the Roundsquare conference in America hit me hard like a destructive missile. For several days, I was beside myself with gloom. But I didn't share my gloomy feelings with anyone, not even with Paddy; I just bottled them up without allowing the feelings to interfere with my focus on excelling in academics. And my not being selected for the 2004 Roundsquare conference in the United States turned out to be my biggest high school disappointment.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story about my biggest high school disappointment, you might also enjoy another one I wrote last year on "Reacting to Setbacks". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.
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Lessons From a Friend
A True Story
on Sep 13, 2020
I once read in a certain yoga book that all people experience moments of happiness during which they wish others the very best in life. But such moments of ineffable joy and goodwill are rare and fleeting for most people. Only a few people in the world have mastered the art of feeling happy and benevolent much of the time. And one such person is my friend Joseph Mazzella, an American who hails from the beautiful U.S. state of West Virginia. Allow me to tell you how I got to know Mazzella and how we became friends.
Back in 2013 when I launched this blog, I searched the internet for inspiring stories that I could plagiarize and post on the blog. To my delight, Google directed me to a certain website with feel-good stories, the kind that I wanted. In the website, I instantly liked stories authored by one Joseph Mazzella. His stories were about love, kindness and compassion; they covered such diverse topics as sharing smiles, crying at times and taking delight in nature.
Mazzella encouraged his readers to share smiles, pointing out that smiles are a spreader of joy, messengers of peace and prelude to laughter. He further said that we not only smile because we are happy but we also feel happy because we smile. Understanding that life can be tough as well, Mazzella exhorted his readers to cry once in a while as crying cleanses our souls to pave the way for the peace of God.
On his observations of nature, Mazzella wrote several stories about butterflies, sunrises, sunsets and rainbows. He wrote about how seeing a lovely butterfly hover over a meadow gives him glimpses of heaven. Then he added that it is not only butterflies that give him an idea of heaven but also a hug, an uplifting song and an encouraging word.
Mazzella wrote of how sunrises are gentle reminders of how God loves us. He penned in vivid prose of the exhilaration he derives in seeing the sun set in his home-area, and then concluded the story by saying that after the sun has set, he has this calm assurance that it will rise again the following day to give him another chance to spread love.
Perhaps the Mazzella's story that touched me most was one on how he had read somewhere when he was a child that there is a pot of gold where a rainbow touches the ground. As you can imagine, he believed it. So one evening during his childhood years when he spotted a rainbow curving majestically across the sky, he ran towards the point where the rainbow seemed to be touching the ground. But alas! However fast he ran, he didn't reach the place because the rainbow would keep on shifting.
Mazzella says that that wasn't the last time he had chased after elusive treasure. Over the years, he has gone after fame, money, and even relationships that he thought would bring him lasting happiness but none ever did. He concluded in the story that he has finally found the true treasure that never fades. And that treasure is the love of God which is free for all. Mazzella has accepted that treasure in his heart and he is endeavoring to share it with others.
So inspiring did I find Mazzella's stories to be that I plagiarized them and posted them on my blog. Some of my readers commented on how motivating the stories were. If only they knew where I had extracted them from!
Later on in 2014 after getting hold of Mazzella's email address, I sent him an email in which I commended him for his exemplary stories. He replied to the email and asked me if he could include me in his mailing list. I gladly accepted to be part of the list. Since then, he has been emailing me a story every week without fail. And, my dear reader, that's how Mazzella and I became friends.
Sometime in 2015 when I let Mazzella know that I run a blog, he discovered, to his utter surprise, that I used to plagiarize his stories. He warned me, in the kindest manner possible, that plagiarism is wrong. Being the wise young man that I am, I heeded his warning, for as the Book of Proverbs counsels, "he who hates correction is stupid". I can now proudly declare that since 2016 when I rebranded this blog to what it looks like now, all the stories I have been sharing here are the product of my own genuine effort.
Besides warning me on what I was doing wrong, Mazzella has encouraged me to keep on writing and sharing my stories with the world. And he always wishes me joy every time he emails me. That's why I have said at the beginning of this story that Mazzella is one of the few people in the world who have mastered the art of feeling joyful and benevolent. And would you believe me if I told you that he has two sons with autism? Well, he does. And that teaches us life doesn't have to be perfect for us to be happy.
RECOMMENDATION: If you've enjoyed this story on lessons from a friend, you might also enjoy another one I wrote two years ago on "Bidding a Friend Farewell". Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.