The Balm of Gilead

The rook or castle, sits in the corner of the board at the start of the game. Materially equal to five pawns, the rook can move in a straight line in any direction on the board. It cannot move or capture in a diagonal direction.

The castling move is done to take the king to safety away from the centre of the chess battlefield. In this move, the king moves two steps (castle kingside) or three steps (castle queenside) while the rook moves to occupy the square just on the other side of the moved king.

Castling is the only move in chess where two pieces move at the same time and can only be done if none of the castling pieces has made a move before then. The move cannot be made if any of the two pieces or any square between the them is under attack.

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Gilead was just like its settlers, high and mighty, self sufficient, spacious, aloof and reluctant to commit, and yet always in a close relationship with the kings of Israel. But having flirted with Jephthah, Saul, and Ishbosheth in the past, Gilead was not exactly in King David’s good books. In fact, right at this time they were harboring his latest rebellious son, Absalom, as he camped with the armies of Israel on the rolling plains between the hills and the Jordan.

But Barzillai was different. He knew on which side the majority stood and yet chose to align himself with his friend the rightful king. He had not always been like this. When he had stumbled on David on one of his reflective strolls by the Jordan, he was instantly dismissive of the ruddy handsome boy. He had a big mouth too, and was going on and on about a bear he had just killed.

David was obviously not from around there. His “sh” speech defect gave him away as a mainland dweller. But there was a charisma and eagerness about him. You were almost forced to push your chest forward to assert yourself lest you be run into the ground by the young man’s incessant boasting and wild tales.

David would speak in short bursts, pausing to peer deep into your soul to elicit a question or a challenge to his position, before interrupting you again in perfect anticipation of what you were about to say. It was as though he became friends with everyone within two minutes of meeting them. Barzillai had reluctantly followed David over the hill to see the carcass of the so called bear. It seemed recently dead all right, but the vultures and scavengers had erased any sign of the blow to the head David claimed he had delivered.

Barzillai did not believe the young man totally, but he had a way of making you follow him even if all you wanted was to be present when his “divine favour” ran out. They kept in touch after David became king, often exchanging gifts of honey and sheep skins, as if reminding themselves of the first meeting they’d had. This time they would be meeting halfway as friends again after such a long time.

Had Barzillai come to believe in the special call of God on David? Not fully. He’d killed Goliath and had resounding success over the enemies of Israel, but still, the young man had such an appetite for controversy and scandal it was hard to see why God would choose such a man. Lying came very easily to him. The sacrifices and religious feasts were optional in his mind. The protests of the priests fell on deaf ears and were all returned by his flashing smile. Luck, yes, but divine favour? One could not be sure that wasn’t just another invention of the smooth talker.

Still Barzillai was the friend of the king. He was bringing needed succor and supplies to the weary king of Israel, and this time he would serve as his informant also. The names of the enemy standard bearers, the leaders of hundreds and fifties, the likely position of Absalom the coup plotter and even the names of the accompanying priests were all at Barzillai’s fingertips. Perhaps he would humour the king and give him the pleasure of teasing them out but in the end he would tell everything he knew.

The rewards would be great as usual: land, a daughter of the king as wife for one of his many sons, maybe even a mention in the annals of the king. But none of them would be as rewarding as the royal smile that would greet him upon arrival.

No reward would be ever as valuable as the personal friendship of the king.

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Just as lotions and fragrance give sensual delight,
a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.
(Prov. 27 vs. 9, The Message)

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Found

Friendship

I look at the blank white space below the word above as it sits all lonely at the top of my page. I wonder how I am meant to fill it up describing something I feel so central to my core and yet find so hard to express or communicate. So much love in the world, so little true friendship.

Do you know the person sitting next to you? Do you know the story behind their tears or their laughter? Do you know their struggles and what they’ve been through? Do you? Should you care? Is it your business? True, you have your struggles too. You have your fish to fry and your axes to grind. They may not even ask that much about you or how you’re doing. They may not care about where you stand or sit or lie. In fact, they may be happier walking past you when you fall because it proves to them that they are not the worst people in the world and somehow soothes their battered self-esteem.

Your efforts to be a friend may even have backfired or blown up in your face. Yes, you may have tried to mediate in a conflict or tried to do the right thing and been rewarded for your efforts with ridicule and public loss of face. You may even have been reminded of your own failings in your attempt to advise a person you thought was a friend. That was the collateral damage in this war.

But was it really worth it? What were you fighting for in this cold war? What did you want? What did you set out to achieve?

The bond of friendship

 

The crutch of companionship

 

The blanket of belonging

 

The balm of camaderie

 

The whispers of soul conversations

 

The spring of shared joy

 

The well of shared sorrow

 

The hand hold of fellowship

 

The embrace of random family

 

The helping hand in the drowning deluge of depression

 

The shore to the stranded swimmer at sea

 

The beacon, lifeboat and flare in this stormy sea called life

 

This is why you left the comfort of your home, this is why you set forth at dawn.

 

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Dedicated to my friend Abigail.

 

 

Make your motions and cast your votes,
but God has the final say. (Prov. 16 vs. 33, The Message)

Day 24: Mudiake

“….young  winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight.”

– George Elliot (Silas Marner)

The true beginnings of many natural and earthly things are often steeped in hope. Like a new born child, or a budding seedling, they come, thrust towards us, dripping with expectations and awash with “forward looking thoughts” and the promise of good things. The beginning of 2012 for me was no different.

Recent events and accomplishments from 2011 helped me begin on a high, and furnished my latent natural enthusiasm with an insipid edge that made it almost tangible to my observers. Then began the passage of time, and his attendant labors, working honestly and hard to weather the previous and proud profile of confidence, and temper the hardness of ambitious resolve. Like a truthful artist, 2012 wrote me an elegy of exposure, painted me a vista of vulnerability, and played me a symphony of susceptibility. But is weakness always a thing to be hidden? There could be no mountains without valleys, and no light without darkness – and who are we to call things imperfect if we did not design them? Could you actually call the unfinished clay pot of the master potter imperfect? You see it in its present state, and your short sighted mind perceives imperfection, but for that stage in its creation process, it is indeed as perfect in the mind of the Creator as it would be at the end when all is beautiful. But then again, I talk too much. My year was a mixture of many things, but at the end of it I can say I am thankful. Not all beautiful for sure, but certainly going somewhere good.

Covering every emotion, every nuance, or every impression that weighed upon my heart this year would be impossible. So allow me, for the sake of your attention span, and the space constraints naturally imposed, to limit myself to just a few things.

The first is that human beings are more similar than different. It seemed to me, that what presents itself as an outer shell only seeks to compensate for, or cover up for that which is inside. Hence if I would paraphrase what some poet wrote: in the best of us lurks the darkest thoughts, and in the worst of us, the best of motives. This I found to be generally true. The beginning of the year saw me working in icy, northern places, and making friends with the cold, the calculating, and the cynical in the Siberian regions of Mother Russia. Oh I had initially been severely culture shocked when I walked into the office of my organization for the first time in Russia and was met with no smile, no greeting, and absolutely no overt interest concerning my existence, despite the fact that I was the only dark skinned fellow in miles. However, by January 2012 I had made friends, and had discovered beneath the cold and hard exterior, a shy, hesitant but deep heart with a capacity for feeling enhanced by a constant thoughtfulness enforced by an omnipresent loneliness which in turn is imposed by the very nature of that society. I have never met a people so diligent about personally repaying what they perceive as genuine kindness and goodwill with equal measure and more of such things on their part. This was pleasant to me, a Nigerian whose original society thrives on men taking other men for granted in ridiculous ways with impudence.

Now, fast forward to the middle of the year, and I begin to live and work in Latin America, a truly warm culture – receiving friendly fancy handshakes from los hombres and multiple kisses each morning in greeting from beautiful chicas ( I must confess here that a few times I moved my face quickly right before the contact so the kiss didn’t quite land on the cheek but somewhere closer to home haha). It didn’t take long to realize that it was a foolishness to be carried away with all the amiability, for when it really matters the most, the countless amigos would only provide friendly but brief commiserations without action, whereas the Russian who declares himself your friend, would go the extra mile in struggling to help you out. What can I say? There are upsides and there are downsides. People must not be written off, for God gave to all, things to compensate for things. Oh and one specific thing. I don’t mean to sound narrow minded – but I have encountered persons from China in the course of my work: somehow I found them a little difficult to understand; almost like they are from another planet. I mean, when there’s more than a billion of you, saying you should be broadminded is kinda beside the point isn’t it? I mean, you can exist within this sphere of 1 billion and be just fine I think. Why am I talking about this? I had this narrow view of people from this part of the world. Then I meet a Chinese girl, and she ends up becoming my best friend where I work. ( I couldn’t have been more wrong. Geez she’s like my family here, always checking on me and watching my back. She’s even ended up having me sounding girly and pink sometimes haha. Using words like “bestie” and feeling good about it! :-S Now that was a side to my character I didn’t know existed. So have patience my pipo. We all came from God, and so there is something good in everyone. That people are different from you and do not think as you do does not mean there is something wrong with them. This I learnt in 2012.

The Second thing concerns the subject of friendship. I once heard a gentleman say that the good friends you make in secondary school are the ones who are your true friends for life. I doubted him, and still do not agree with him entirely seeing that the majority of my friends now certainly were not in my secondary school. However, I had a best friend back then. We were separated when he left for the US shortly after WAEC exams to study. If I was David back then, then he was Jonathan, and vice versa. We prayed together, hoped together, made plans together, and he remains one of the few individuals to have seen my tears and vice versa. Well after 12 years, I decided to take a vacation and visit him where he lived. Pleasantly, it seemed as though we said goodbye only yesterday. We drove around idly, wallowed in our problems, talked a lot, cooked manageable food together (with gloves and goggles for the onions), and drank wine in quiet evenings while we encouraged ourselves. And he is certainly not my only friend. If there was one thing I realized from the end of 2011 and over the course of 2012, it is the fact that I am blessed with the peculiar blessing of real friends. In my moment of dire need, they all came through for me. Friendship no be by mouth. My friends emptied their accounts for me. They talked me out of foolishness. They inspired me with their struggles and their victories. They put up with my nonsense as well. Despite the fact that I have been far away from them, and have not been the best at keeping in touch, I meet things just as they were left, or even better when I finally make it back after all the going about. I’m not going to mention names. They know themselves. Pray for the gift of friends, people, because with true friends, you are never alone, no matter how far away they are. It is almost like a spiritual thing. Even when you stand physically alone, their thoughts, their goodwill, and their prayers surround, shield, and strengthen you. Methinks that for this reason, before even speech or action, some men appear more powerful than others to the observant eye. Who knows?

Concerning the third thing, have you ever noticed this certain law in a football match? That when a side has been leading in goals for the entire duration of the match, and it so happens than the disadvantaged side equalizes the score at the last minute, then almost always the equalizing side goes on to win that match in extra time? This happens because the leading side unconsciously begins to relax and anticipate the victory. They are unprepared for any further struggle, whereas the disadvantaged side has placed all their hopes on the extra minutes to be purchased by a last minute goal. Well, I was coasting into what I thought was to be a reason for celebration. There was a woman, and I thought she was to be the last and final bus stop. I loved her. Very much. She was funny, pretty, sensible and down to earth. I thought she was the one. But alas it seemed for some reason she did not understand that this was my impression. Combined with a mix of parental pressure, differences in background, and I believe my physical absence due to the nature of my job, she decided to quit the relationship. Like the side anticipating victory, I was caught completely unawares. I tried to win her back. Believe me I tried. But of course due to the way things happened, I realized while trying that even if I did, things would probably never be the same. I don’t trust people easily, so most times the “hurtful” things people do, don’t get to me at all because I never expected anything much. When I trust people and I feel betrayed it is difficult for me to recover from that. Very difficult. I still think she did not treat me well. I think she miscalculated and let other people’s opinions and desires affect her excessively. But I also think that she has a good heart. I was sad and downcast. How couldn’t I be? I loved her. At the height of it there were a few tears. No, I could not hang around to watch her go off with some other guy. I did not want to be an observer to such a thing. It ended. But this was not a question of “let’s be friends”. No. I left with the promise that we could talk again in two or three years, when all the greasy business is done with, and everyone is happy again. Maybe that was cowardly; maybe immature, but I found myself vulnerable, and could not by any means do otherwise. And there was no looking back. I wandered about in my minds world under a shadow for a time, and I gotta to thank God for my nuclear family. All of them. First person I talked to was my Dad, then my brother, then my mum (who was scolding me for not coming to her first but this was a man’s something nau – besides you know the way mums are, always eyeing the girl warily every step of the way, ah), and finally my baby sister whose job it is to echo everything I say or add “abi o” hahahahaha. And what happened? I put it away and focused on my only brother’s wedding (yay! – but still not sure it actually happened :-S) . I was happy, sang my heart out, and did the MC work happily! And would you believe some elderly women there were telling me: “don’t worry, your own will soon come.”, seeing that I was the “left behind brother!” :-O. Thank God today I can say that I am just fine. Though, I have a niggling worry about whether or not I have lost my ability to let go, and love foolishly again. From the collective experience of numerous honest men and women, it certainly looks foolish to do so, but damn it feels good.

This has been long. But there is one more thing. I have always taken things like academic success, and excelling in the usual things of life for granted. So when I wrote the first draft of this, it never occurred to me that this was worth mentioning. But I work, and I am not doing badly at all. At least I fit peck some people now and am not the last in the pecking order. Chiefs at work all have good things to say. For that I thank God. I will not take it for granted. May he help me continue to stand strong.

So I come upon the end of the year strongly reminded of my vulnerability, and capacity for shedding tears. I have been most peaceful at certain times, and at other times been overwhelmed by a choking frustration only a timely friend could pull me out of. I come to the end grateful for my nuclear family, my church family, my darling cute 4-cousins, and my friends. God came down to me in them and supported me. When we are weak, then we are strong. The “young winged things, fluttering forsaken in the twilight…” today will be the mighty eagles of 2013! I’m sorry for the people I hurt, but I am not sorry for who I am. I end it all thankful. I’m gonna get better. My friends would wait around and contribute to this happening. Anyone else trying to condemn me on account of my weaknesses and failings has my express permission and encouragement to go and hug a transformer that is short circuiting. For those I love and who love me, “Imma pull a damn hamstring tryna put it on”, so help me God. Amen.

P.S. Thanks bro for allowing me actually sit down to think about my year and put ink to paper…..erm….fingers to keyboard. It is always a good thing for a young man to consider his ways.

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Mudi’s my brother. He writes like a king (check his blog out here) and I’m so proud to have known him since he was born. Strength and healing for you dear brother.

Tomorrow we will be sitting down to listen to Dolapo. Do stroll by.  🙂