Each version of this letter has begun with the words “There is so much I want to say, so much, too much…” This year, more than ever, that string of words has a more intense underbelly because there is so much to be said because certain things have happened and there are no words for these things, at least not words which are adequate.
First things first, omo. No, that is not a typo. Omo is a more intense, full-bodied version of the word “wow”. Wow is something you say when you fall into a puddle of water on your way to work or the conductor forgets to give you change and leaves you stranded at Ojuelegba, wondering if you’ll ever see the bright lights of Obalende again. Omo is reserved for those moments when the Universe stretches you to the breaking point, just stopping short of defying Hooke’s Law. In those moments, there is nothing you want to do more than pause to understand and come to terms with the madness of the situation and react appropriately to the situation with the right spectrum of emotions but a pause is a luxury above your paygrade and life is a machine with several moving parts and a mind of its own so you learn to live without handbrakes. Mental health be damned.
I have spent the days leading up to this letter pacing the corridors of my mind, absentmindedly scrawling notes on the walls, dredging memories from the depths of my mind, sighing one moment and smiling the next. The string of thoughts and words which make up this letter were put together by the most introspective version of myself. I have also spent the greater chunk of the last month putting off the task of writing this letter because the last twelve months have been an entire madness.
Each time I take a step back to think about this year, I imagine it as a vacuum cleaner with more heads than a hydra, more horse power than the Roman Cavalry and a mind of its own so it takes what it wants at will and without consequence. Nothing is spared. Everything is on the table. Lives. Jobs. Mental health. The year has been a psychopath with a bucket list. “Cause a pandemic. Check. Heighten tensions and stop short of starting World War Three. Check. Ground businesses and send global trade spiraling to the earth nose first. Check.”
Grief and loss have been the major tropes of the year. A lot of people spent the year trudging from loss to loss. I believe humanity will always look back at this year as a ground zero moment. The way I see it, the only otherworldly thing that has not happened this year is an alien invasion. This year really put man’s mortality, his frailty in the grand scheme of things in perspective. The cost of this reality check was immense. Kobe Bryant died this year, man. Twelve months after and it is still so hard to believe that the penultimate sentence is factual. Kobe Bryant died and the world did not end. Chadwick Boseman passed as well. Omo. How can Kobe die? How can T’Challa die? How do people just cease to exist without explanation or a heads-up?
I don’t think anyone was unscathed by the tragedies which happened this year. As much as a lot of us were placed at some distance from the frontlines of tragedy, distance and absolute insulation are mutually exclusive events and this year took a toll on everyone. Wave after wave of loss and tragedy forced millions of people into a corner. I know this is true because I spent more time on social media this year and I saw this happen in real time. As much as a lot of the loss was impersonal, it happened at such a large scale globally that I could not help feeling despondent, sad and helpless. I caught myself wondering about the grief levels of the friends and family members of the persons who passed this year felt if total strangers could feel so intensely about the loss of their loved ones.
As I write these words, Kanye’s Family Business is playing in the background. I guess I should throw in a few words about the basic unit of society. This year, I became an uncle…again. Two times this year. A niece and a nephew. It is funny how in less than three years, I have gone from being the youngest member of my family to having four younger ones. That’s quite the leap and it has come with certain pressures. I think of my nieces and nephews a lot. I think of the man their uncle is becoming. Given the fact that they haven’t mastered the alphabet, I know that the day of reckoning is some way off, but I regularly catch myself wondering what their opinions of me would be. Will they like me? What version of me would they encounter? Will I be Humpty-Dumpty before the fall? Wholesome and put together? Or after? Jaded and unhinged? What is my legacy? I know that a lot of the pressure I live with is self-imposed and my mental resources could be harnessed better elsewhere but everything has consequences and what’s the guarantee that the alternative choices won’t be just as demanding?
As a child, football after school was something I looked forward to. Behind the school building. A gaggle of noisy boys. Sweat trickling down my face. A ball made from rolled up socks in the air. Life was good. In those moments, my only problem was keeping the ball long enough to beat everyone’s score. Now, it’s something else. A lot of things actually. Some days, I wake up, sit at the edge of my bed and think about the boys I played kick-ups with. I wonder where they are now. I wonder if life has been good to them or is it using them for its game of kick-ups.
Aloaye, if I told you the truth and held nothing back, I would tell you that you can only form hard guy for so many things. Omo, I cried a number of times this year. More times than I have in the last ten years. And I didn’t even attend a funeral. I can be that honest and open. What’s the worst that could happen? Will you beat me? The year took an emotional toll on me and I just couldn’t hard guy my way out of it. I really just wanted things to fall in place for me and they didn’t and there was nothing I could do about it in spite of my best efforts. I have had a lot of trouble sleeping, I have lived with a lot of anxieties this year and I have had at least one anxiety attack.
It is funny how in a year which took so much, the pressure which comes with existence did not lose traction. Functioning in the middle of a pandemic has to be a tragedy of sorts. Day after day, you still have to show up to work and meet deliverables when all you want to do is collapse under the burden of grief. Imagine showing up to work after waking up to the news that your favourite literature teacher suffered a stroke. Omo. It hit different mostly because every word I have written was in some way influenced by her lessons.
This year has not been all doom and gloom. There have been high points. Hamilton won another Championship this year. A lot of people found love this year, myself included. Love is such a beautiful thing and falling in love with Ife, that’s her name, is easily the best thing to have happened to me this year. As much as the year has been insanely chaotic, ending up with Ife is one hell of a win. Ife is such a great partner. See, this life thing is hard to do alone. We need human safe spaces, people we can be vulnerable with.
A relationship is not a walk in the park. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows. We have had our valley moments. A number of them. See, being in a relationship has brought a lot of my flaws into perspective, has given a bit more context to my existence. I have a lot of baggage and things to work through. There’s so much I have to un-learn and even more to learn. Sometimes, my reaction to events and conversations leaves a lot more to be desired. I think commitment is the currency of relationships. This fuel exists in different forms. Kind words. Going over and beyond to keep your partner happy. Keeping your ego in check. There are days when you have to roll up your sleeves and open the bonnet to tweak and tighten the nuts and bolts of your relationship. You can’t just kick back and relax and think all is well. Nah, you actually have to put in the work and get your hands dirty and filled with more grease and oil than the Niger Delta.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about Kobe and fatherhood. Kobe, flaws and all, was a good man and a great father. I don’t know if this is down to me being in a relationship and being introspective but lately, I have been more aware of the scarcity of wholesome male role models in areas not affiliated to career. Fatherhood is a lot of responsibility. I think more “good” men need to speak up about their lives as fathers and men. A lot of us are just winging this life thing in more ways than one. A lot of us in relationships don’t have viable templates to work with. So we’re out here flying by the seats of our pants and missing red flags. For some of us, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree so we love our partners the way our fathers loved us. With our pockets. However, you can’t fill an emotional void by throwing money into it. And it’s not like we have a lot of money sef. So,you have to be soft, you can’t form hard guy for the ones you love. You have to love from your heart and with your full chest. You’ll regularly have to tell yourself “soro soke werey”. Don’t sweat it, you’ll get the reference in a few years. A part of me hopes Nigeria fixes itself so you never get the reference.
I have spent the greater chunk of this piece talking about myself. I write these things for myself as much as I write them for you and I like to think that given the madness that the year has been I could just skip the task of giving advice. What do I know anyway? However, if I could give one advice above all else, it would be this- be grateful. In the flux existence that we live, we often forget to take a break and smell the roses, we forget to appreciate the things and people that make us tick and keep us going from day to day.
This year, I am grateful for life. Grateful for family. Grateful for Ife and all the good she has brought to my life. I am grateful for the love of God. This year, I turned a corner as a Christian and I am grateful for the growth, which was mostly organic. I am grateful that in those moments when I feel down and out, I am reminded that God’s love surrounds me like an infinite shawl, in spite of my shortcomings. I like to think of God’s love as an arrow lancing from one end of eternity to the other. To me, God’s love is a constant, everything else is a variable. I am grateful for the new friends and the old ones that stayed. I am grateful for all the vibes they bring. The jokes, the banter. This year, my friends have made me realise that I am never alone. That even when the lights go out, nothing changes.
This year, I have made peace with the fact that I live with a lot of burdens. Guilty burdens. So my major task moving forward is to learn to forgive myself for my flaws. I am not omnipotent or omnipresent. All I can do is the best I can do and if that’s not sufficient and is not something I can work on, there’s no point living with the burden of guilt hanging over my head. A lot of times in my life, I have not been there for people as much as I want but I really can’t go through life looking in the rearview mirror and wishing I had acted better. Well, I didn’t and that’s that for that.
I have said so much, too much and I really should stop here. Plans for next year? Nothing over the top. I just want things to fall in place, live easy, wear more white shirts, start a substack and have a brogue/sneaker collection. For now, I just want to sleep.
Given the fact that this is probably the last thing I’ll write this year, it is only right that I end this letter with a note to the year 2020. In the words of a great man who isn’t with us anymore, “I never yielded and as you can see, I am not dead”.
P.S Here’s a little going away gift until we meet again. Two of the favourite messages I got this year. I hope these make you smile and bring you as much warmth as they did for me.