Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Kindness is Timeless

Sometimes you just need someone to believe in you, to take a bet on you and invest in you. Sometimes all you need is for a stranger to buy into you and decide you are worth their time, their attention or their help and cut you a break. I think we all deserve to be considered worthy of a hand up once in a while and I think it is unfortunate that in this world, because of limited resources, you have to prove yourself to be worthy, you have to earn recognition, respect and support and I think it is really unfortunate that the world is set up such that we are all in competition with each other. So no matter how fast, smart, gifted or good looking one is there is always someone faster, smarter, more gifted and better looking, and that’s the person who impresses the panel, wins the prize, and receives support to get even further ahead in life. From a primordial perspective of survival of the fittest, rewarding natural excellence is a tried and tested strategy that works for the good of the species. But in this present day, not being good enough is a really hard pill to swallow if it means that it costs us a shot at realizing our dreams or it costs us a chance to get past difficult circumstances.

I first encountered Energy in 2007 at the Harare International Festival of the Arts (HIFA) where he was performing as a marimba player and backing vocalist of a musical ensemble named Liyana. All the musicians in Liyana are living with some form of physical impairment and a number of them including Energy are wheelchair-bound. They have had to adapt themselves to operating in a world that is largely designed to fit the needs of the able bodied and life for them demands an additional level of strain and effort that others do not have to experience. I was impressed by the band’s ability to dominate the stage, draw the audience in and have a rocking time of it. 

My second encounter with Energy came in the form of an urgent and impassioned plea for help from a dear friend of mine who has a penchant for helping people and the sheer enormity of whose charisma is only matched by her magnanimous sense of humanity. She had a history of working with and supporting King George VI, the school for physically challenged people in Bulawayo which is the home of Liyana. Energy had written and passed his SATs and been offered a scholarship to study in the USA but he didn’t have the funds to cover his living expenses. Unfortunately, in order to be granted a study visa he had to demonstrate proof of finances to the tune of $10, 000 which for someone with an impoverished background in Zimbabwe, is absurd to the point of hilarity. Except it wasn’t a joke. It was real, urgent and necessary. A young man’s dreams hung in the balance and my friend set up an online fundraising page, appealing to her vast network of friends and connections to donate what they could so that Energy could get his visa and go and begin a whole new chapter in his life.

I nearly didn’t do anything about it. There are so many reasons not to give. I deliberated the issue thus:

The Scrooge in me: I’m not rich.
Me after realizing that my most priceless possessions are the incredible people in my life: So what?

The Scrooge in me: I already give. I send money to my family in Zimbabwe. Isn’t that enough?
Me after a particularly fine glass of merlot:  There is no quota for how much I should give. I can give as much as I please. Damn it, I can do whatever I want!

The Scrooge: I don’t really have the money to spare.
Me while washing club smoke out my hair after a costly night of wining, dining and dancing: Next month why don’t you NOT buy a new book or CD to add to your sky high pile of non-essential things, and instead, give the money to Energy so he can go to school? Or you could cook instead of going out to eat for a month and give Energy whatever you would have spent on food and beverages and tips so that the guy can go to school. Food vs Education. Really? Do we even need to think about this?

Scrooge: I’m awesome but no one ever gave me money to go and live and study overseas. I’ve had to make things happen with whatever resources were available to me and as a result my life has followed a completely different trajectory from that which I had envisaged originally. If this guy can’t afford to go to school then he must make another plan like the rest of us have had to!
Me after a very grounding conversation with my mother: Sure, he could make another plan. Or you could help him… And yes you are awesome. Always have been and probably always will be regardless of where life takes you or where you choose to go. Your ability to handle the setbacks you have faced is further testimony of your awesomeness. A pat on the back and a big high five to you. Five Noddy badges and a gold star in fact! Now, are you going to help Energy or not? You know you want to…

So I did. I asked my friends to help him too and a couple of them did. In fact one of them, a very talented emcee in a band posted the link on his fan page and mentioned Energy in his blog asking his followers to donate or spread the word. And then I realized that I was getting high. Yes high. Intoxicated. Helping someone in need has that effect on the brain and as I watched the numbers creeping up towards the $10 000 target as more and more people donated, I must say I felt like a million bucks for having contributed in my small way to a web of compassion that would change somebody’s life for the better. Yay for me!

I hope Energy is enjoying himself in Florida. I know he is filled with humility and gratitude and wants to make us all proud and show us a very high return on our investment in him. But I don’t expect him to go back at the end of his studies and change the course of history in Zimbabwe. Being the young dynamo that he is, though, it will not surprise me if he does go home and do some utterly amazing things, however if he does he will have exceeded my expectations of him and he will have gone over and above what I hope for him to achieve. For me, if Energy uses his time abroad to grow his mind and skills, gain experience and exposure and expand his horizons beyond the confines of a small life in his homeland then that is enough. It’s worth it all and I am glad to have helped.

Ear worm of the day: Timeless - Sergio Mendes ft India Arie