And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

After reading Fredrik Backman’s “A Man Called Ove”, he’s become my new obsession.

There aren’t many writers out there who draw your soul into a story like he does. You see the characters. You root for them. You feel their sorrows and hopes and triumph. You sit in bed at 2am weeping for them, and smile when things finally begin to work for them.

Because deep inside, these stories mirror yours. Your story is buried inside words and you recognise this. So, it stops being about the characters really; it’s about you. And me. Hoping we’ll get a happy ending eventually.

I read Backman’s novella “And Every Morning The Way Home Gets Longer and Longer”.
It’s a very short complete-in-one-sitting kind of book that tells the story of a man searching for the best way to tell his son and grand son goodbye.

His greatest fear isn’t death; it’s not remembering. It’s waking up each day knowing your memory will fail you. That you’ll stare at the people who meant the world to you and have no recollection of who they are. That you’ll pick your favourite book for 10 years and not know why it was so perfect for a decade. That the words you loved so much, or the numbers that excited you means nothing.

I would fear that. Not death. Never death. Not going grey or wrinkled. I look forward to it. I would fear forgetting; looking into the mirror and not knowing. Scratching at the surface of consciousness and not being able to dig within. It’s frustrating today to have a word right there at the tip of my tongue and yet my mind betrays me. It’s frustrating to feel like I need to recall something and yet can’t access the file. But to know that one day it’ll simply be a natural reaction to aging…

Noah, his grandson, takes this in strides. He’s a child who loves numbers like his grandpa. But he also understands adult complexities because his grandpa always spoke to him like an adult.
Ted, the son, likes words and music. He never got along with his father. He taught himself to ride a bike.

… Grandparents dot on their grandkids because they’re trying to apologise to their children for being bad parents.

I can live with this.

Backman weaves an emotional, compelling story of family, love, regret and hope. All fundamental themes familiar to us.

………………….

There’s a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of the floor, has pitched a green tent. A person wakes up inside it, breathless and afraid, not knowing where he is. A young man sitting next to him whispers:
“Don’t be scared.”
The person sits up in his sleeping bag, hugs his shaking knees, cries.
“Don’t be scared,” the young man repeats.
A balloon bounces against the roof of the tent; its string reaches the person’s fingertips.
“I don’t know who you are,” he whispers.
[…]
“You look different, Noahnoah. How is school? Are the teachers better now?”
“Yes, Grandpa, the teachers are better. I’m one of them now. The teachers are great now.
“That’s good, that’s good, Noahnoah, a great brain can never be kept on Earth,” Grandpa whispers and closes his eyes.

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What Came Before?

what came before

Incidentally, in a conversation just a little while ago I had to explore some history to try to reach some clear understanding of a cultural matter. The culture of people are a practical demonstration of their identity. A loss of their cultural history often results in the kind of vulnerability that we witness in Africa today: a vulnerability that shows itself in our embarrassing efforts to acquire and display foreign accents, in our dash to buy all things Western, in our speed to bad-mouth Nigerian ways and things. It is easy to sell any narrative about Nigeria to Nigerians today especially because we have no idea what we once were and where we once headed. We are like sheep without shepherd without our history.

In a personal experience I saw another side to this issue. History may not be lost but it may be so painful that you wish that it was. Every time you come up against it you want to avert your eyes and pray that by the time you look up it would have dissolved like mist before the rising sun. And yet without facing that history squarely and bravely but intelligently dissecting it, that fear that it always inspires will be the baggage you carry everywhere with you.

My secondary school and university days carry their share of history. I can often hold my own when embarrassment comes at me in public. I don’t know where I picked up the skill but I actually know how to take an embarrassing moment and make it a memorable one. Or at least I used to. But memories are a whole other bucket of fish. Sometimes you remember and shudder at what you did and hope nobody else does. History may be embarrassing.

How we understand the past is the most important element determining the future — James Carrol

But without history, how can we know our own selves and plot a course for the future? What you do not face squarely and clearly sort through is likely to haunt you into repeating the same mistakes. History says a lot about who we are. As a matter of fact, without it, we are ships adrift on the sea. We need it to guide our paths into the future.

The question “who am I?” begins its answer in “what came before?” History may be scary; it may be embarrassing or it may be unknown but it should never be ignored. Discovering it is key to discovering ourselves, understanding it is key to understanding the decisions we have to make and the paths open to us. Owning it takes the power of definition away from possibly malevolent or dubious elements and gives it back to us.

 

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Odii is an entrepreneur. Figuring life out and sharing his discoveries is business he enjoys doing. You can find him @ Panorama

A Threefold Lesson  

“Some of our biggest lessons come in beautifully wrapped little packages of experience.” 

Of all her body parts, Mma’s hair held the least appeal. It frizzed, broke and resisted every act of taming irrespective of her efforts. This was a cross, a very surprising cross because for years she had been blessed with beautiful hair—long, soft and admirable. Continue reading