by Omenka Egwuatu Nwa-Ikenga
Everything was all good just a week ago. There are some people who say that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Well it took seven days for Chidi’s life to come crashing into pieces. You see, from the surface, Chidi seemed to have it all; a high paying job at an investment firm, a beautiful wife, kids in college. However, things started to fall apart last Wednesday. That’s when he came home to see that his wife had packed up her things and left a note explaining that she was calling it quits after 24 years of marriage. Chidi had no idea why she wanted a divorce. He had done his best to give her the type of lifestyle that most Nigerian women had desired. After 19 of his calls going straight to voicemail, and 18 of those 19 calls actually ending up with him leaving a message, he decided to give her space while he called his family members and in-laws asking what he should do. Just as he was still in the midst of making sense of his imminent divorce, the second blow came to him two days later when during his annual doctor check up, he was diagnosed with cancer. As a person with no ailments, who attended the gym religiously, Chidi was one of those people who felt that things like cancer could never happen to a person like him. But cancer, being a disease, is no respecter of persons and could strike anyone at any time. The straw that broke the camel’s back occurred Tuesday when he found out that he would be let go by his job despite his 15+ years of service to them.
Each of these three situations were tough to handle on their own, and them happening at the same time was pure torture. Upon facing this immense level of stress in such a short time, Chidi did what most people do when put in similar situations: he turned to drugs and alcohol. After a few days sitting in his room, drowning his sorrows with hard liquor and barbiturates, he decided that life was no longer living anymore; Chidi would commit suicide. Chidi had known alot of people who had nearly died from taking certain over the counter drugs in combination with one another. He figured that if he took those same drugs at a higher dose, he would be sure to kill himself but still make it look accidental. Although it was the 21st Century, suicide was still considered very taboo and cowardly amongst his group, the Igbo people of Southeastern Nigeria, and if he died of drug overdose, he would still retain some type of dignity. And perhaps his family members could sue the drug companies for negligence. Maybe it would work, maybe it would not. The most important thing was for him to be able to off himself in a peaceful way since he definitely was too cowardly to do things like jumping from a bridge or shooting himself.
Despite not being in the right frame of mind, Chidi was meticulous in preparing his cocktail of death, calculating how much of each drug it would take to ensure his relatively painless death. He said a short prayer and raised the cocktail of death to his lips, preparing to take it with some alcohol. Just as he was ready to pop the pills in his mouth, he heard a voice say “Are you sure this is what you want to do?”
Chidi paused. Perhaps it was a figment of his imagination or a product of his drunkenness. He raised the death cocktail to his mouth and once again heard the voice, but even louder this time. Chidi was confused. He hadn’t been taking any hallucinogens, so he was confused why he was hearing voices. The voice appeared to be coming from the mirror. Perhaps it was someone deciding to play a trick on him. He put the pills and the alcohol down, rushed over to the mirror and shouted angrily, “Who are you?”
The voice replied, “You should know who I AM my child.” Chidi was confused. Both his parents were dead. Suddenly it dawned upon him who it was that was speaking to him.
He put both hands on his head and yelled out, “Chinake nna! I can’t believe this is happening to me!”
The voice replied, “What were you expecting…a burning bush or something?”
Chidi’s bewilderment immediately turned to rage as he yelled out, “Where were you when I was going through all of my suffering?”
The voice replied to him, “I’ve been here all along, where have you been?”
Chidi responded by asking: “What do you mean where have I been?”
In return the voice asked ,“All the many years that things were going great for you, when your life was full of blessings, where was your appreciation? Where were your songs of praises? Where were your prayers of gratitude?”
Chidi paused and looked at the mirror. It had been a couple of years since he last made thanked God for all the blessings in his life. “But I pay my tithes faithfully! And yet you allowed me to lose my job!” he responded.
The voice replied, “First of all, do you really think that I NEED something like money or anything for that matter? When you give, you give to one another, not to me, and there are plenty of better things that you can give , such as your time and talents in service to your fellow man and women, in other to show appreciation for your blessings. Secondly, when you were giving money, you were doing it solely because you felt that doing so would bring you more money, like an investment with a guaranteed return. It was the same type of thing that you did for your job, and there was no sense of gratitude in it whatsoever! Now on the issue on your job, everyday you would say to your Self how much you hated it, but how you just loved the money that it brought to you. In all honesty, I was doing you a favor. You losing your job was designed to give you an opportunity to re-evaluate your life and find your calling. Do you really think that you or anyone else was put on earth to work 40+ hours a week for 40+ years, retire and then die soon afterwards?”
Chidi was flabbergasted. He had indeed hated his job. He hated the commute. He hated his coworkers and his superiors. He hated the unscrupulous practices that went on there everyday. But he loved the money and status that it brought to him. As he looked deeper in the mirror, he remembered how he had a passion for agriculture when he had been younger, but how his mother had laughed at him and asked him if he wanted to be a menial yam farmer like his great-grandfather had been. She had told him to follow the money and get rid of those silly notions that had crept in his head.
Chidi then asked “Well what about my marriage? Why did my wife Amarachi leave me? I did alot for her!”
The voice replied: “When was the last time you told her that you loved her? When was the last time you showed that you appreciated her? When is the last time that you spent time with her? Sure you brought home enough money to keep the entire household comfortable, but what about her contributions? She has a career too you know! And she after a long days work, she wants attention and affection from the man she married! Where you thinking of her all those late nights you spent at the office? I hope you know that she was thinking of you!”
Chidi was dumbfounded. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had worked hard and given her so much…
The voice interrupted his thinking by saying: “Why can’t you admit to your selfishness? Why is all about what YOU brought to the table? This woman sacrificed so much for you. She suffered for many years and brought you four children. And yet you neglected her for the sake of your career. How long will you keep lying to your Self? I don’t have to remind you of the numerous issues that you have in your marriage, but I will say that you have have avoided addressing them by hiding behind your career!”
Chidi continued looking in the mirror and remembered the numerous times he would come up with work related excuses to avoid having to deal with the difficult issues with his wife. He recalled how she had told him that he had stopped doing the things that had made the marriage so magical in the first couple of years and how she barely even knew who he was anymore. He realized that he had indeed sacrificed his relationship for career advancement and now had lost both. He began to cry.
“Well Chi,” he said with tears flowing down his cheeks, “what did I do to deserve getting prostrate cancer?”
The voice replied: “Its very unfortunate that this type of cancer disproportionally affects men of African descent in America far more than of any other group. There are a number of reasons why you, and other men of African descent have developed this cancer, but that’s something that I would rather you to discover for yourself. Nonetheless, be encouraged that you possess all the tools and resources to heal yourself and to help other similar men to do the same. The same applies to all of the other issues that have befallen you. Always remember that…”
With that last statement, the voice faded away. To where? Only Chi knows. But Chidi was left staring at nobody but himself in the mirror. He really didn’t know whether the entire episode had been real, or merely a figment of his imagination. But at this point, it really did not matter. It had dawned upon him that he had no one to blame for himself for his recent pitfalls. They say you never know what you have until its gone. He had a job that he hated, but was even more upset when he lost it. He had a wife that loved him, but who he had neglected and now she wanted to leave him. He had health that he had taken for granted, and now it had failed him. He decided that from this day forth, he was going to show appreciation for everything that he had, and was going to take responsibility for his actions and reactions. He wiped the tears from his eyes and said words of thanks in his native language. He arose a new man, with a new lease on life. He would do everything in his power to get his life on the right track. He would make amends with his wife and make sure that she always felt appreciated. He would look at how and why he developed this illness, and most importantly, what he could do to heal himself. And last but not least, he would begin a new career in something that dealt with agriculture, because feeding people was an excellent way for him to feed his soul. Chidi planned on doing all of these things, but first, he wanted to call his good friend Onyemobi and tell him everything that had just happened to him.
Know Thy Self and Know God – Ancient Egyptian Proverb