We are only hours away from yet another new year. I will be turning 75 early in 2019, and that is quite a few years to have survived in this unpredictable world, is it not? I have “consumed a lot of salt”, as the Waswahili say, and for that I should be grateful.
I wonder how you compare with me. From the general profile that I have of my readers, I imagine that there is a handful of my seniors, venerable elders in their late 70s, 80s and even 90s, and these are absolutely adorable. Please join me in hailing them with a humble and heartfelt New Year “shikamoo”.
The temptation is strong on me to mention a few truly distinguished names. But I know that once I start, I will risk either charges of favouritism or the indulgence of using up all our available space on a roll-call. Like the Rwandese umusigi griot, I risk burning the strings of my harp with the zeal of my song.
As for my rika, the group down from the mid-70s to the mid-60s, I say, “let us show us brave”, as Claude Mackay told us, and always continue the struggle. My undying dream, as you know, is of a “shenzi-less” society, where we all respect ourselves, respect one another and respect our environment.
That, anyway, is the legacy I would like to bequeath to the bulk of my readers, the age sets ranging from the 50-60 seniors, through the 40-50 “middlers” and the 30-40 “yuppies” (young upward mobile people or professionals), down to the most precious young adults. We elders should not tire of instilling into the new generations the need to build a truly “deshenzinised” society.
But, in the end, it is not the years under our belts that matter. Rather, it is the value of the experiences that we have garnered from those years that makes us truly the characters that we are. Another popular Kiswahili saying is “kuishi kwingi ni kuona mengi” (living long is seeing a lot). But the litmus test is the meaning of the lot that we have seen.
It is generally presumed that older people are wiser than younger ones. But it is quite possible that some elders are less wise (as shown by their behaviour) than when they were younger. I will take myself as an example.
I have been in the business of making New Year resolutions for almost as long as I can remember. But, unlike you and a few other people who faithfully observe and fulfil their resolutions, becoming better people in the process, I invariably break all of mine, even forgetting what they were, within the first few weeks or months of the year. Simple wisdom would dictate that I abandon the whole futile exercise. Yet I never give up on solemnly resolving, year in, year out.
Indeed, I am already resolving for 2019. But this time I am quite cautious, maybe the signs of some age-donated wisdom. I am making absolutely sure that I will keep my New Year resolution. I will ensure this through three main tricks. First, as you have already inferred, I am making only one resolution.
Secondly, I decided on a resolution that I can fulfil in practical terms. In other words, I will perform my resolution. I will act it out at every possible opportunity. Equally importantly, I picked on a resolution that I think is enjoyable. Many of us mistakenly think that being virtuous or being serious about life necessarily means being miserable, grimly clenching our teeth and “hanging” in there.
George Bernard Shaw once said that “an Englishman thinks he’s being moral when he’s only being uncomfortable.” We do not advocate self-indulgence, but there are many beautiful, comfortable and enjoyable good things that we can continuously do for our own good and for the good of others.
This brings me to my 2019 New Year resolution. I have decided to love. Yes, I, Mwalimu Bukenya, resolve here and now that, throughout 2019, I will love with all my heart. I will love you, I will love all people and I will love myself. Curiously, in Luganda (Kiganda), okweyagala,“ loving oneself”, means feeling good about who you are and being where you are. Is that not a wonderful way of spending every day of the year?
I think that truly loving yourself begins with discarding regrets. Forget about that famous family into which you were not born, that snob-sounding school to which you didn’t go, that awesome degree that you didn’t get, that plum job that you missed, that super-brainy, super-good-looking heart-throb that you didn’t marry and that upmost upmarket neighbourhood into which you didn’t settle. You are here, right where you are, laden with bushels of life’s gifts and endowments, many of them totally undeserved and unexpected surprises. Is that not reason enough for you to love yourself?
About loving my fellow human beings, I will carry out my resolution in three main ways. First, I will reach out to people, starting with saying “hello” or “jambo” to everyone within my reach, including the cop at the intersection. I hope, by the way, that “jambo” has not been patented by — you-know-whom.
Secondly, I will converse, exchange news, views and stories with anyone who cares to share. At the bottom of the matter, that is what we all yearn to do. That is what my friend, Parvin Syal, hints at in his poem, “Just a Word”.
This connects with my third practical loving step, and it is the most important. I will listen. The world seems to be bursting at the seams with sad, frustrated people who have no one to talk to. Even more disturbingly, those who wish to talk have no one willing to listen to them. Am I not in good business?
Incidentally, I claim no monopoly over my resolution. You can join in, and I am sure it will be even more fun. Happy New Year!
Prof Bukenya is a leading East African scholar of English and Literature. [email protected]