I am a pessimist. No, I am a realist. I prefer to look life straight in the eye, to see it for what it is and not for what I wish it is. And because of that, I always do my damndest to take in the things I know that I can never change.
Death is arguably the one single constant in life, one that will happen to every single human being on this planet. Not even Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who the Bible says is the son of God, survived it. It is the one thing you can bet all your money on, and 100% certainty that you will win. And yet we live life, every single little tiny fraction of a second, trying to not only avoid it, but dread the day it will come calling out our name.
But I will be different. When death finally comes calling my name, I don’t want to stand in denial, and act like this earth is my home forever. I do not want to dread death as if it is a bad thing. No, it actually is a good thing, because life is a hard to place to be. Death thus comes as the natural remedy for life’s troubles, as the final crown handed down to you, the ultimate resting place when your heart puts an end to the strenuous life-supporting and lays you down for eternal rest.
Death is not a favourite subject for people. It is not something that people want to talk about. But as I will discuss later, death is only terrible for the rest of us who remain mourning after someone has passed on. Because after they have left us, they have no worries anymore. It is only us, who after having built relationships with those people, are left with a hard-to-fill vacuum.
Below, I will make an attempt at showing just how hard the life we live is, how tough, how rough, how dangerous, how much of a jungle this life is, and why by the time death comes knocking at your door, you should not stutter with trepidation, but embrace the only everlasting form of rest you will ever get.
Tortured place to be
“This world is a tortured place to be; so many things to torment me,” is the opening line on Christian band DC talk’s song, Supernatural. And without trying to be custodians of positive-living about the issue, we will by and large come to the same deduction about this life, as did the three gentlemen that made up the band above.
It is nearly impossible to treat life the way it is, to define it in its true brutal state, to characterise it as that bile dripping beast, because doing so is likely to have far reaching effects on the inspiration on which your life feeds. So we will live through this life choosing to see the glass as quarter-full instead of three-quarter-empty.
As soon as a baby is born, the act that will prove that it is alive, is crying. And so it is that the journey into this world is flagged off by tears. If you are lucky to be born in a family, one that is loving and is financially able to give you a safe landing on earth, you will go through the first three or so years with little trouble. But by the age of three, you will have tasted hunger, thirst, disease and pain. And you will have learned by then that that is the natural order.
At three years old, your mother will grab you by the hand, and walk you to school. And the one human being you have come to love and trust will throw you in the hands of another human being, and together with 30 or so other children, you will compete to get the same kind of treatment you got from your mum, from this teacher.
But of course that will not happen. You will watch a few of your fellow children win the favour of the teacher, without deserving it one bit. You will watch teachers pay special attention to ‘special children’ in very special ways. School will introduce you to competition, an interesting ball game whose rules are simply that either you are good enough and you take part, or you are chicken, and you back off.
You could be a Muslim living in a predominantly Christian world, like most of Kampala. But as soon as you step out of home, say into school, you will learn the shocker that the rest of the world does not treat your parents’ religious values as the ultimate truth. A whole range of religious groups who think they have the right version of what God is saying will bombard you with their teaching. Some will be nice, humbly asking you to denounce everything you believe in because their holy book says you are going to hell. Others will not be so polite. They will accuse you of devil worship, of idolatry, of apostasy. And you will stand there in total confusion.
Life is a system of inequalities, blatant inequalities. You could be a simple plain average girl just getting by and studying hard. But you see, we live in a world where beauty, especially physical beauty, is a commodity whose price is always inflated. And because you are human, and you are a girl, you will crave attention. You will want to be noticed by teachers, superiors, but most especially, by boys. So, you sit there in a class where your plain, ordinary self is pitted against charming, pretty, cute little girls who have boys falling over each other for them.
And you can bet your life on it, the difference in attention you receive will not be lost on you. However hard you try to avoid it and act like books is all you care about, the idea that a girl who is prettier than you and gets noticed by boys and ends up winning favours from them, and from teachers as well, will lead to countless hours in the mirror, seeking reassurance, if not to hours of utter psychological turmoil, as you ask why it is not you that they are crazy about.
Society always wants to keep you in line, in its line. It will want you to behave in a certain way - to walk like this, to talk like that and to sit like the other way. You will realise from very early on in life that you do not have control over your life, and that society, through its representatives, (teachers, parents, authorities, friends, etc), will want to have a say in every single thing you do. Every single one!
Teenage is a time of self discovery, when who you really are slowly starts to take form. It is in this age that many people discover their sexual self. And while all other boys are meeting and talking about sexual conquests, you may not be as lucky so as to take part. You may actually turn out to be homosexual, caught up in a single sex boys’ school where you are sexually drawn to people you share dormitories with. And that will be the start of a whole new zone of trouble.
By now you will know what society thinks of people like you. You will know only too well what people say that God says about homosexuals. And the first step will be denial. If you are a Christian, it will descend into months of prayer, and fasting, and counselling, and watching heterosexual pornography, and dating someone from the opposite sex, just so you can fend off these ‘demons’ that have cropped up in your system. But it will not stop the urges. And so you will live in a society that is fundamentally made its mind up against the very urges that define who you are.
At one time you are bound to meet the girl or boy who will drive you nuts. It’s called falling in love. Few things will grip your life like that does. They will creep into every little tiny detail of your life, arrest your nerves, and make the verdict of whether you will have a good day wholly dependent on how they treat you.
And if you are a boy, falling in love will get the very best out of you. The surge of testosterone within you will see you employ a hitherto unseen sense of humour, an improvement in your public appearances, all just to impress a girl. You could be lucky, as she may be doing her part to impress you too. But, as very often happens, she may not even want to have a single thing to do with your sorry ass. And so you will spend the money on pints of milk (in school), or nights out and shots of tequila or cups of capuchinno for someone who does not even slightly come close to feeling half the way you do.
Instead, it will turn out that her affection is geared towards a totally different person. And so you will be caught in a state where you love someone so entirely, and you are even sure you can love nobody else that way, and yet they just cannot replicate the same.
It will all seem like a movie. Because in most of these cases it will turn out that there indeed are people out there who like and want you, and yet, you just can’t return the love to them as well. The girl you want may also find herself wanting a boy who does not care a cent about her, and yet for some reason, she just can’t turn to you who truly loves her.
It is the mishap of romance that grips many, with many ending up settling down and getting married to people who are for all intents and purposes, simply an opportunity cost, and not really the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with.
Soon school will be done, and you will head into life. There, the capitalist dragons will be waiting with their tongues dripping. The lie you were sold at school that if you read hard, you will get a good job and live happily ever after, will be undone to you when you finally realise that your academic papers are not a ticket into bliss. You will learn that for every job that opens up, there are 1,000 pairs of hands that want to do it, for half the price. But when you finally get the job, you will realise then too that you are barely given enough to bring you to work and take you back home, with little if anything left to allow you buy the cell phone you want, or even a pair of shoes.
Maturity comes with the desire to settle down, to start up a family and have children who will sort of act like a lasting memory of your work on earth. So you will get married. But in the great institution of marriage, you will find the frustrations of a loathsome man who as soon as you get pregnant, will run away and cheat with your co-workers, if not best friend or sisters. When the children are a little older, he will not come back early to help with homework or even share quality time with you, but will return in the wee of the night, drunk and demanding food.
It is the desire of every parent to give their children something that they were not able to get while children. And so, if you were one of those boys who did not have a Nintendo 64, you may want to buy your 8 year old boy one. But you see, life changes. While the N.64 is what charmed 8 year olds at your time, your son may instead be clamouring for altogether different things, like a car that will chauffeur him to school every day.
Parenting takes on the troubled state where you only get to know your children for the first three years. From then, the parenting duties are taken over by the combination of teachers, dormitory supervisors, maids, and the television. You are way too busy ‘working for their future’ that by the time they are 18, you have hardly sat down and got to know them and can hardly recognise them. And right after school, they will seek to run away from home, and go on to start their families. And just like that, you realise you children have passed through your hands like pedestrians. What follows is that you will grow older, soon become a grandparent, an old frail human being who is sickly and is avoided by your very children because you have now become a burden.
It is not so bad
Trying to tell a story of just how hard life is can be very futile business. You just can’t grasp all, the troubles that come with being orphaned at an early age, of living below the poverty line, of being born with HIV/Aids, of going to school but failing to get a job, of living in debt, of being raped, of being tortured, of living under oppressive regimes that milk your every cent but offer no services, of having to offer sex before you get a job, of watching the girl you love cheat on you with your best friend, ad infinitum.
In the end, life is supposed to wear you out by default. And yet if you live life for even a day, you will realise that it is not exactly a very bad place. Laughter, joy and happiness are a profound feature in life. But it is also worth noting that that too comes as a result of overcoming the natural hurdles life expects you to overcome.
The joy of living is derived from man’s ability to overcome troubles thrown his way by life. We will celebrate landing a good job, not because we got it, but because we struggled to get it. We are happy when we mark 25 or 50 years in marriage because it is not easy to achieve such a milestone. We celebrate in life because we manage to make it in a place where we have had to beat the odds in order to make it. And that makes living every bit worth the while. Living is itself an honour upon mankind because for every bit when we manage to do so, it is a conquest of some kind.
The trouble however is that we have treated death in the same way as many of the troubles we face in life. With the help of religion, we see it as a curse from God, as punishment, as a sort of exiling from this good earth that supports our existence. But we are wrong. Death is not bad. And death is not punishment.
Part of the reasons people fear death is the fear of the unknown. We just don’t know what lies on the other side, if at all there is another side in the first place. Religion has stepped into that void of knowledge, and erroneously, given one account after another of what happens after death. Some tell us there is heaven and hell and punishment and everlasting death. Others say we become spirits who reign over the earth and roam around. Others say we mutate into animals. But no single dead person has come back and given us copper bottomed proof of what awaits us after death.
Secondly, we assume death means the same thing to the dead, as it does to the living. And that is wrong. For the living, death robs somebody they love. It occurs in gruesome forms like murder, disease and accidents. Seeing all that is not likely to make living people assume death is a good thing.
But one thing we can be sure of is that life is a draining event, one that will sell you toil by the minute, and redeem you with a little joy to keep you running. I have lived for quarter a century now. And I know that life is hard. But I am choosing to take it all in stride. I have chosen to sit back and enjoy it all. I am choosing to value the life I have, for as long as I have it, knowing well that the only feeling of gratification I will ever experience is through beating the odds thrown at me. But more importantly, I will choose not to worry about death, because if there ever is any form of rest that I will ever have, it is definitely it.