Gaining Wisdom in Pain
I can't exactly recall which match we were watching back in 2006 in Starehe Boys' Ngala House whose captain was Paul Byatta. It must have been the FA Cup final between Liverpool and West Ham in those days when Steven Gerrard was at the peak of his football career. But I do vividly recall getting angered by Byatta when he switched off the television as the match went on after we became wild and noisy.
Byatta pissed me off so much that I uttered some negative comments about him to my equally upset friends. And later on when I heard someone say that Byatta wanted to attend the prestigious Harvard College, I must have thought to myself, "No, that guy can't make it there. He is not a Harvard material."
But alas! Two years later, Byatta was accepted by Harvard - the same college that rejected me twice which depressed me given the effort I put in crafting my application and the way I regularly visualized myself walking through the streets of Harvard. God must have been using the pain to teach me a valuable lesson: to never mock, ridicule or laugh at anyone's dream.
It must have been the same sort of lesson learnt by the white woman who was captured on camera in 1957 yelling at a 15-year-old black girl named Elizabeth Eckford who was attempting to join the then whites-only Little Rock Central High School (see photo above). The white woman publicly apologized forty years later for yelling at the innocent and determined Eckford who was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Bill Clinton in 1999.
And so Aeschylus, the ancient Greek tragedian, was on point when he wrote of pain bringing us wisdom against our will through the awful grace of God. Let us therefore use every pain as a tool of gaining wisdom instead of shrinking to depression or resorting to drugs, prostitution and excessive alcohol.
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Back in 2011, two lady-friends of mine named Ruth and Susan, with whom I served in a choir at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, took me to an up-scale restaurant for a talk. As we began our conversation, I mentioned to them that I was a votary of President John F. Kennedy. (I still am.)
"Why do you admire him?" Ruth asked.
Then I quickly replied, "Because he was a wise, young and charismatic president."
Well, I can't recall when I first heard of President Kennedy or how I came to admire him. All I remember was the way I quoted him in an argument I was having with my volleyball team-mates at Starehe some time in 2003 as we debated on who would travel to Kisumu for the national championships which we had just qualified to attend. Using President Kennedy's words, I challenged the team-mates by saying, "Ask not what the team can do for you but what you can do for the team."
Later on in 2007 when I became interested in public-speaking, I came to love President Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address which was voted as the second best speech of the 20th Century. I would listen to it again and again whenever I was alone and high in spirits.
I can still recite some lines from that famous inaugural address, like President Kennedy asking Americans to join him in fighting "the four common enemies of man: poverty, disease, tyranny and war itself."
When I matriculated at JKUAT that same year in 2007, I came across Theodore White's The Making of the President in the university library which had a cover-page photo of President Kennedy looking calm and composed. I came to like that photo so much that I would view it most times I visited the library.
Over the years since my JKUAT days, I have read more about President Kennedy from books, magazines and newspaper. And from those readings, I learnt that there was one virtue he loved and admired most: that is courage. So much did President Kennedy admire courage that he wrote a book about it titled Profiles in Courage which became a best-seller and won President Kennedy a Pulitzer Prize. He narrated in the book about the experiences of men who demonstrated great courage in times of national crisis. I read that book when I was at the University of Nairobi in 2011, so I know what I am talking about.
When I reflect on the stories of men who demonstrated courage as narrated by Kennedy in his book, I am left wondering how it is that I have been afraid to demonstrate courage in my everyday experiences. I have nonetheless resolved to work on my muscle of courage especially in the following day-to-day instances:
- Speaking up against intimidation and bullying
- Saying "no" firmly, politely and unambiguously especially to friends
- Standing up against enemies as well as friends when they err
- Speaking against unacceptable talk and behaviour
- Defending personal decisions
If you've enjoyed this story of mine on developing courage, you might also enjoy another one I wrote some time back on "Cultivating Love." Just click on that link in blue to dive straight into the story.