Sunday, August 06, 2017

For Tolu… Death is a Bastard (II)

The last time I really spoke to Tolu, I was declining her request to take a picture with just me and asking her to join a group picture instead. During my 2012–2013 NYSC posting at her school, I was very conscious of my position as a teacher and Youth Corps member and was careful to avoid doing anything that could be misconstrued. I saw her after then, at her Valedictory Service in 2015, and she didn’t want a picture with me because “sebi you’ll say no”.

I wish we took that picture she wanted.

The group picture Tolu did not join

Tolu sitting in front of the class

Tolu was one of my brightest students at the Ogudu Senior Grammar School, Ogudu GRA. She made an impression on my very first day in class. She always sat in front, and attempted to answer EVERY question I asked the class. When I said “First of all…” while trying to answer a question during that first class, she was one of the few who did not scream “Go down low!”. Her assignments were ALWAYS on time. Her work was meticulous. I only had to punish her once — for something I cannot remember, but I remember that it hurt me to have to punish her.

Why did Tolu die?

It is one thing for someone to die in old age. At least you can argue they had a chance to fulfill their potential. What do you say when children and teenagers die? How do you comfort parents who have had to bury their child? Open Cone (aka Okon), another one of my brightest students from that class and apparently her boyfriend, called me on Thursday and was distraught, and I had no clue what to say to him. How do you make any sense of all this?

Death is so weird.

Dying, and living, are probably the subjects I have thought and written about the most. I counted seven posts on my blog this morning, with titles ranging from ‘What do you do with death?’ to ‘Thoughts on Death’ and ‘Death is a Bastard (I)’. While reading them again, I realized they almost always end the same way.

What can we who are fortunate to remain alive do?

We can choose to live.

We can trust in and look forward to eternity with God — where there will be no more death or dying. We can choose to do things that make us happy and spend time with people who value our company. We can choose to live our dreams now within our means, rather than put them off till an uncertain future. We can choose to give now, even if we can only give thousands versus millions at an uncertain date in the future.

We can choose to overcome the nearly universal fear of failure and contribute our best. We can choose to experience the adrenaline rush that comes with doing something that scares us. We can choose to love now, even if a scarcity of resources limits us in its expression. We can choose to learn now, and find fulfillment in putting our learning to work. We can choose to work hard and play hard. We can choose to make the most of every opportunity we get to live.

Goodbye, Tolu. Your smiles brightened that class, your feedback helped make me a better teacher, and memories of your facial expressions make me smile even now.

Thank you, Tolu. We miss you.

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