Sidney Poitier’s “Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” is one of the books I am currently reading. The renowned Hollywood actor penned the book so that his great-granddaughter, Ayele, gets to know about the origin of her family, herself, and hopefully use the old man’s wisdom to chart her own path in the universe. Well, this is not a book review. The fact that I would like to bring forward is that only those who have something worth reading would take the time to write it.
Supposing you live to see your great-grandchild. Will you be in a position to offer her/him any advice? And if you don’t get the chance to write, will your life be worth telling to generations after you? It is easy to tell. The life you are living now is a chapter in the story of your life. There is no escaping from this reality. If you, like Sidney Poitier, are living every moment so that it counts, if you are spending every one of your heartbeats doing something worthwhile, that is what can be said of you.
If on the other hand you are letting the winds of life drive you, refusing to take responsibility for your life and living a life so undesirable it makes you stink, that is what shall be said about you – forget the colourful eulogies that paint the filthiest soul white; deep inside we know who we are. I am not sure how we came to this but men in Kenya are increasingly becoming a shameful lot. Yes, I mean it brother! We are all over the news for all the wrong things: drunken driving, dangerous driving, defilement, bestiality, murder, child and wife neglect and what have you. Mention Nyeri, and a man is caught in an unnatural act with a chicken; go to Kisumu and a man is killing and burying his victims in his compound. There is nowhere to turn to find a good man – or is there?
But I have heard of times when men were really the bedrock of the family and state. When you got into a verbal agreement with even a stranger, it was enough to know he was a man. Men kept their word – to everyone, including their wives. Yes, there were times when the word man could have perfectly stood for respect, authority, principles and responsibility – those days when men were the custodians of morality; when they asked the heavens for rains and it rained. Where did all those men go? Back to where I started. What would be the title of your book on letters to your grandchild? Would it be called “Life Beyond Measure?” “Lamentations of a Hopeless Alcoholic?” “Give me another chance?” Or “Accept me as I am?” And what would be the chapters of the book?
Sidney Poitier has written his, and I can tell you it is one you would want your grandchild to read. In it he discusses some of his weaknesses and addictions like gambling and smoking. But he also narrates the struggle he went through trying to conquer them and how he won. His is a story of fighting ignorance and poverty and leaving his family an inheritance for generations to come. He wrote the book when he was 80 years old. The problem, as I see it, is not that we have weaknesses; the problem is that many of us have given up trying to overcome them. Worse, a good number have become so addicted to vice that the only perceivable cure would be death. But it shouldn’t be that way. The story of our life has to be a daily struggle against evil. Men should be the last ones standing in a duel between them and temptation. That is how it should be.
That is the story we should tell our grandchildren: of triumph, never of surrender! It’s not that I have overcome all my weaknesses. I know mine (a good starting point) and I am busy fighting them one by one. Some battles I’m winning but others are quite tough; but I am not giving up. That is a chapter of my life that I will emphasise to my grandchild.
Dear men! Let us do this for our children, for our wives, for our country and for us. Refuse to get to age 80 and all you can tell your great grandchild is err… well, nothing!