And the things we’re denied by keeping the divide
You are happy. There’s serenity in your soul, a temperance like a cool breeze on a sweltering day. There’s no anguish in your heart. No pain, no sorrow in your life. You are really, truly happy. Everything is as good as it can be. Everything’s pristine. Everything’s fine.
You have always been happy. You cannot remember a time when you weren’t happy. Your earliest memories are of building castles in the sand, of playing with your friends Chinedu and Ada , of hanging out with your parents at the amusement park. And these are nothing if not happy memories. You are the only child of your parents so naturally you were the centre of their world, their heartthrob. You still are. They showered you with love and adoration. They still do. Your friends envied you,, this privileged, this easy-going life. Even though they did not say as much, at least not in the beginning, you had a feeling that their lives were not as smooth as yours, that it was in fact rough around the edges.
When did you first notice this? Was it when, during one of the play-dates, you saw that Ada’s eyes were red and swollen, evidence that she had spent the previous night crying? Was it when you took cognizance of the fact that Chinedu was becoming more withdrawn, that there was a sense of alienation that he felt? You knew these things. More importantly, you knew why they were happening. You knew that the other kids in the neighborhood were saying very unkind things about Ada . They called her ‘sick’ They called her ‘an abomination’. All these because she was caught kissing another girl.
As for Chinedu’s reclusiveness, you knew that this was because he felt ostracized at home under the reigns of a father who ruled his household like a feudal lord, dishing out instructions and punishments, not bothering with showing love and affection. You knew these things, but you turned a blind eye to them. You were contented living in your bubble of bliss. Happiness after all is an enclave, one that must be not be permeated by the pain of others or the misery of the world.
The first time you felt a personal connection to God was on a cold day in June. It had just finished raining and you were sitting outside on the balcony looking at the cloudy sky. You were instantly in awe of the Lord who made the universe. Of course your parents had spoken to you of God before. They’d spoken of His Glory, of His kindness to those who obeyed Him, His wrath to those who didn’t. But this was the first time you really felt His Presence, His Essence, a breath-taking moment of epiphany . It was as though He imbued you with even more bliss. In the months that followed, you would spend most of your time praying ardently, praising the Most High.
Even though your parents only attended church on Sundays, you insisted that you had to go to Church more often. So you went for Mass, and you went for Fellowship and you went for Bible Studies. You became subsumed in the incandescent ardor of the Lord. You tried to bring your friends into the light. Whenever you got together with them, you moved quite easily to proselytizing.
What Ada wanted to know from you , after listening to your ministrations , was why God made her different if being different was such ‘an abomination’. Even though she didn’t speak as clearly , you knew what she was referring to. You knew she was talking about her feelings for the girl that she’d kissed. You responded by telling that ‘perverse desires’ were the doings of man , not God. You told her that with prayer and fasting, she could surmount those urges. Even as the days went by, even as she reminded you that she had prayed and prayed and still felt the same way, the only thing you had to tell her was that she should just continue praying, that with God all things are possible.
You saw the look of disappointment in her eyes when you said this. She told you, in a bold-faced way , that you really didn’t understand what she was going through and that you were just sprouting dogmatic teachings you didn’t fully comprehend yourself . Your friendship with her hit the rocks then and even though you two remained collegial, the close bond between you two was broken.
When you spoke with Chinedu about religion, he listened to you ardently, making notations at the back of the book he was reading. He always had a book in his hand, a soothing companion in his solitary life. As you spoke, you thought he agreed with every word you said, the same way you had agreed with every word your priest said, without questions, without reasoning, for faith after all precludes reasoning , did the Bible not say that it is the evidence of things not seen ? But you were soon to realize that Chinedu wasn’t the type of person to accept religious teachings without rationalizations.
‘‘ If God exists, and if he loves us so,’’ He said ‘‘, then how do you explain the misery in the world?’’ . You responded by reminding him that God works in mysterious ways. ‘‘ That still doesn’t explain why people die from natural disasters. Some of these people actually believed in a benevolent God.’’ He replied. It took a couple more arguments before you realized that Chinedu was an atheist. The book he had in his possession during one of your arguments was The Myth of Sisyphus, authored by the French writer Albert Camus who believed that life was absurd, and that to look for meaning in a meaningless world was equally absurd.
You left for University two years later. Chinedu had gotten in to study Architecture in your hometown of Enugu. You had gotten in to study Law in the University of Benin. So you two went your separate ways. During the years that followed, you two kept in touch. You did not however keep in touch with Ada . You would rather associate with an atheist than with a lesbian. Somehow, you believed that he was the lesser of two evils. During one of your discussions over the phone, Chinedu talked to you about Ada . He told you that she had gotten in to study Accountancy in Abia State University, that she had a girlfriend named Linda with whom she was very much in love. Of course being an atheist, Chinedu was perfectly fine with Ada ’s ‘lifestyle’.
You listened to Chinedu talk about her, but you didn’t really say anything. Of course you couldn’t bear thinking about Ada and her girlfriend cuddled up together, caressing each other. You couldn’t bear thinking about this perversity, this depravity . When your conversation with Chinedu turned to religion, you realized that his disbelief in God was as staunch as it was before. He still believed , even more so, that religion was a divisive force among humanity. He believed that with religion, people were unable to see the thing that binds them together. But as he spoke, you detected in his voice, an angst that he felt, a kind of disquietude. It didn’t take long for you to figure out what the source of that state of restive was.
He once told you that the belief in a Supreme Being provided a sense of serenity , because to take defer our fate to a Higher Power, was in essence to alleviate the painful realities of life, to assure ourselves that with all the anguish in the world , there’s a bounteous reward in the end. But still, he said, that was not a reason to believe He argued that if one should believe in God it should be because there’s incontrovertible evidence that He exists, not because we want to feel better. However, you knew about the serenity that he’d referred to , the one that religion brings into someone’s life. You have that serenity. Yours is a life filled with joy, where every unfortunate thing that happens is simply the will of God, a life where everything’s always fine even when it isn’t, a life where there’s always happiness regardless of whatever horrendous thing is going on out there in the world. Tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, senseless acts of violence- these are the things that happen in the world, the things that God let happen . And yet you are still happy, glorifying the name of the Most High.
A few months later you got the news that Chinedu had killed himself. As you got on the bus to go home for his funeral , you thought about all the conversations you’d had with him, all the arguments about God and the meaning of life. You surmised that he had decided, in the end , that life was utterly meaningless and wasn’t worth living. You were quick to draw links between his godlessness and his decision to take his own life. You did not consider the fact that there isn’t just one reason why people kill themselves.
At the wake, you saw Ada for the first time in three years. She was a basket case. Chinedu’s death had hit her hard. Even though the two of you hadn’t talked in a long time, you two found a quiet spot where you sat and conversed. She didn’t ask you why you’d distanced yourself from her. She knew why. She instead talked about Chinedu. She spoke about how he had kept in touch with her, how he’d called her every few days to find out how she was doing, especially during the days following her rape . You were taken aback by this last bit of information.
You had no idea that she had been raped. Ordinarily you knew that she wouldn’t be talking to you about this, but because she was in an emotionally vulnerable position at that point, she went on to tell you about it . She told you that one of the boys in school who’d been ‘ disgusted’ with her ‘lifestyle’ had raped her in other to ‘correct her’ and ‘make her normal again.’ The boy was later on caught of course but the overall feeling amongst people who shared the same homophobic sentiments as the boy was that she’d deserved to be raped . As she recounted this, you saw tears dripping down her cheeks, and for a splinter of a second, you felt a tug of sympathy. But at the end of the day, you put this whole incident out of your mind, letting in happiness, praising the Lord for the grace He had bestowed upon you.
Yes you are happy. Whatever happens to other people doesn’t tamper your happiness . It doesn’t bother you why God allows injustice and misery to prevail. Tragedy is much more appealing when it happens to other people, at other places, the misfortune of others becomes a spectacle, a vista, something you can ogle at and be grateful not to be caught up in . As long you are happy, why should you care who’s unhappy. As long as everything’s fine with you why should you care if someone else is in great pain. Especially if that person doesn’t have God on their side, and not just any God but your God, for salvation is only for those who come humbled before Christ . Yes everything’s pristine with you. That’s what matters. The Lord has chosen you, and has showered you with His blessings. And to God be the glory.
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