It’s better to fly

A few days ago, I was standing outside Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Calabar, chatting to a few of my friends and meeting some of theirs. Behind them, I could see a multitude of darkly-clad mourners streaming out of the gloomy interior and blinking in the bright afternoon light. It was a sombre day that had arrived quite suddenly in the wake of an unexpected tragedy. 

Someone in our group mused aloud about why such a bright, promising and well-loved young man should pass away in the prime of his life. Half-jokingly, I concurred, wondering why others, whom we would not miss quite as much, will still be around to make our lives a misery. Just our version of the well-worn question, “Why do the good always seem to die young?” The conversation took a few more twists and turns before we drifted away quietly, with promises to meet again soon. 

On the drive back home, the question continued to plague me. Was there really any truth in it? Surely death is completely random and anyone can go, at any time, in a huge variety of circumstances, long before old age sets in. After all, lots of good people are still alive and lots of criminals and others with risky lifestyles die young too. So, does this mean that the feelings expressed by the family and friends of this gone-too-soon young man are misplaced, heightened perhaps by pain and a sense of loss? Maybe not.

Although I don’t have any statistical evidence to back me up, I do have a theory. I believe that ‘the good’, meaning those bright, ambitious, hardworking and positive souls who make life better for the rest of us, take more risks than those who remain average. And, by virtue of being chance-takers, they are more likely to risk life and limb in pursuit of their goals. 

By all accounts, Peter Bello was such a person. He wanted to live life to the full. When he passed away at just 26, he was a seasoned traveller, trained helicopter pilot, accomplished photographer, part-time model and fitness enthusiast. He was well-educated, popular and a loyal son, brother and friend. I didn’t know him that well but whenever I saw him on his trips home to Calabar, he struck me as being polite, respectful and composed. At an age when most of his contemporaries would have just finished their first degree and probably been hanging around the family business, Peter already had his Masters, had completed flight school and was off to a bright start in his career. 

According to my theory, Peter would still be with us if he had stayed at home in Calabar, watching movies, playing video games and eating his mom’s famous cooking. However, once you leave your comfort zone, driving, flying and venturing abroad; or you begin speaking against injustice, standing up for the weak and assuming positions of leadership; or you dare to dream big, follow that dream and actually believe you can fly; then, inevitably, life becomes more dangerous. That’s why so many people keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, never daring to take to the sky. Undoubtedly, they are safer. But are they happier, knowing that their dreams will never be realised?

When I think back to all the times in my life when I felt safest, they are also the most boring, repetitive and predictable periods of my life. And yet, those are the times when I had what most people covet – a stable job, a familiar circle of friends, above average income and a couple of nice vacations every year. But it wasn’t enough. I wanted to see more of the world, do more interesting work and have more of an impact on other people. I wanted to see how much more I could make of my God-given talents, so that I could die without regrets, unfulfilled dreams and nagging thoughts of all the things I could have done but didn’t. 

It is said that most people at the end of their lives, if they have the opportunity to contemplate, never regret the things they’ve done as much as the things they haven’t. 

I’m still on that journey and I still have so much to do. I had a narrow escape three and a half years ago on a lonely rural road in Lagos state, when two of our group didn’t make it out of the wreckage alive. So, I don’t take anything for granted. If I was spared for a reason, I think it’s my duty to figure out what my purpose is. And, if I’m going out, let me go like that fearless young co-pilot who died doing something he loved and in the service of others. 

Take it from me, your life is supposed to mean something. Sure, it’s safer on the ground but anything could happen, anywhere and at any time. 

Wouldn’t you rather be flying?


Dedicated to my friend, Thelma Bello, and her family. May God give you the strength to bear your loss

31 thoughts on “It’s better to fly

  1. Really loved this one yet again. I am again challenged and concur with the theory.

    Safe can be boring but the responsibility of being a family man has some bearing on ‘safety’. There has to be some reconciling to do with the risk of leaving a widow and orphans behind. Having said that, Sam and I are in that position without Michelle having occupied any positions of known risk.

    Maybe I can fly with a parachute

    Best wishes

    >

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    1. Hi Paul
      Very few risks have the possibility of death as a consequence. More often than not, it’s criticism, ridicule or the chance of failure that people try to avoid. Nobody wants to leave children or a spouse behind – that’s a bit extreme – however, having them see you at your best, albeit briefly, is better than them watching you stagnate and fail to achieve your full potential. Fly with or without a parachute, but fly nonetheless. It’s still way better than the long walk home.

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  2. “When you take a risk you may lose, when you don’t take a risk you always lose” …though this quote may seem be a bit extreme, life is always about taking chances to seek fulfillment. Nice reading Michael, I enjoyed it!

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    1. Hey Peter, you’re absolutely right. However, many people prefer the certainty of failure to the uncertainty of possible success. I touched on this in an earlier post, ‘Courage in the face of fear’. I’m really glad to have your support.

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  3. I had gone through a near experience or I should say that my family had gone through a near experience. Pursuing your dreams out of the ordinary takes an extra-ordinary risk or courage. Here I’m a young Lagos emerging entrepreneur ventured into a business opportunities outside of Lagos precisely in Calabar, Cross River State.
    Suddenly in pursuance of my passion, my family found their way to Calabar every Christmas. Many people had asked why Calabar? Or What your relationship with Calabar Are you an Efik or Ibiobio? I said No. I’m just had passion for the the Carnival, the expression of their arts and Culture and how I can add creativity into their overall expressions. ( Mind you, not that there re no Carnival being organised in Lagos and Abuja but the thrills and the hospitality hooked me) and I also got hooked to my camera every year.
    After doing this for 8 years, I mean 8 good yrs of spending Christmas vacation in Calabar the unexpected happened! My whole family of 5 had an accident within the city on Dec 26th, 2014.
    Most of us came out with fractured bodies and I was watching my wife dying. I reached out to my church and we had to be airlifted by our good Samaritan back to Lagos before my wife and daughter could survive it. (Part played by every stakeholders is for another day).
    The same question still prompted out from my friends and loved ones, Why this far? Why Calabar? Why not spending your holiday within your comfort zone, but my answer was and still: It could have been anywhere. It could have been somebody else.
    But one thing is sure. It takes courage to move out of your comfort zone and you re more courageous when you know it’s risky adventure.
    If the risk is worth it, take it!

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    1. Hi Toye, fantastic to hear from you. I know some of this story very well. The truth is that living in Nigeria carries a certain amount of risk because of the irresponsibility, indiscipline and chaos in the society. In your case, your family was harmed because someone decided to drive on the sidewalk! You are so determined to succeed that nothing will stop you; not even incidents like these. I’m glad you’re still here, my brother.

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  4. I had gone through a near experience or I should say that my family had gone through a near experience. Pursuing your dreams out of the ordinary takes an extra-ordinary risk or courage. Here I’m a young Lagos emerging entrepreneur ventured into a business opportunities outside of Lagos precisely in Calabar, Cross River State.
    Suddenly in pursuance of my passion, my family found their way to Calabar every Christmas. Many people had asked why Calabar? Or What your relationship with Calabar Are you an Efik or Ibiobio? I said No. I’m just had passion for the the Carnival, the expression of their arts and Culture and how I can add creativity into their overall expressions. ( Mind you, not that there re no Carnival being organised in Lagos and Abuja but the thrills and the hospitality hooked me) and I also got hooked to my camera every year.
    After doing this for 8 years, I mean 8 good yrs of spending Christmas vacation in Calabar the unexpected happened! My whole family of 5 had an accident within the city on Dec 26th, 2014.
    Most of us came out with fractured bodies and I was watching my wife dying. After exhausting local medical assistance, I reached out to my church and we had to be airlifted by our good Samaritan back to Lagos before my wife and daughter could survive it. (Part played by every stakeholders is for another day).
    The same question still prompted out from my friends and loved ones, Why this far? Why Calabar? Why not spending your holiday within your comfort zone, but my answer was and still: It could have been anywhere. It could have been somebody else.
    But one thing is sure. It takes courage to move out of your comfort zone and you re more courageous when you know it’s risky adventure.
    If the risk is worth it, take it!

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  5. Another thought-provoking piece Michael. One of the lessons I have learnt in life is that great success is rarely achieved without taking measured risks.

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  6. Hey Michael,  Your latest blog had interesting timing. A plane from the Shoreham by Sea airshow killed quite a few innocent people Saturday 22nd August.  The A27 motorway was packed and the people that died were stationary at the traffic lights.  They didn’t stand a chance, but they were out going to enjoy themselves at football, the beach, even a limo was going to pick up a couple to take them to their wedding.  As you know in England, when you’re promised a hot weekend, everyone is out.  Watch this dramatic footage.  Those involved didn’t have anytime whatsoever to react.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzBu4IB2WCQ

    I do however believe, with all this sadness, those that venture out normally have more fun.   Although, with that said, getting to West Wittering Beach by public transport was a nightmare from Chichester railway station.  It took us 1hr 30mins from Chichester Station to go the short bus journey to West Wettering due to the mass of people driving there.  Grid Lock – car parks full – motorists diverted away from the beach.  Not enjoyment!   On the return, waiting 1 long hour for a bus that you don’t even know if you’ll be able to board when it arrives; is not my idea of enjoyment.  Then a journey that should take 15 mins, took 50 mins as the A27 was closed due to the plane crashing onto it, and the sheer weight of traffic from the people who went to the beach trying to find alternative routes home.  to add insult to injury, once we finally got to Chichester Station the train was delayed by 32 mins and in true British style, was only formed of 4 carriages.   To add insult to injury, the train after this one was cancelled and was the last train into London that day.  Saturday 22nd August was one of those days when I’d wished I stayed home in front of the TV.  (LOL) Sabrina  From: From Kingston to Calabar To: sabrinadanjou@yahoo.com Sent: Sunday, 23 August 2015, 21:57 Subject: [New post] It’s better to fly #yiv7800881718 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv7800881718 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv7800881718 a.yiv7800881718primaryactionlink:link, #yiv7800881718 a.yiv7800881718primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv7800881718 a.yiv7800881718primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv7800881718 a.yiv7800881718primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv7800881718 WordPress.com | fromkingstontocalabar posted: “A few days ago, I was standing outside Saint Patrick’s Catholic Church in Calabar, chatting to a few of my friends and meeting some of theirs. Behind them, I could see a multitude of darkly-clad mourners streaming out of the gloomy interior and blinking i” | |

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    1. Hi Sabrina

      That was quite a day! So sorry to hear about the tragedy that occurred, it must be devastating for the families. However, I don’t think this can be compared to the risk of personal endeavour, when people dare to be different and rise above the ordinary. Thanks for your support and feedback, I appreciate it.

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  7. It is more risky to be risk averse. However it is even better if we can take calculable risk. Young Peter bello now late took a calculable risk and stood out from the crowd. I didn’t know him but I have read so many good things about late Bello. To sum it all ”Peter Bello achieved so much at an early age yet very meek and unassuming”. Honestly, I was yet to see a man of his age so missed and celebrated by both young and old at his death in this part of the world. I pray his gentle soul R.I.P but IT IS STILL BETTER TO FLY !!!

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  8. Great piece as usual Michael. Nothing can be more consoling to the Bellos. It is said that the world expands or contract in proportion to one’s courage. Peter Bello Jnr expanded his world in so short a time and displayed uncanny courage. While alive he lived.

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    1. Thanks Attah, you’re right. The great lesson I took from his too short life was that you should make the most of the time you have, because you never know how long you’ve been given. And this doesn’t apply only to the great achievements in life, such as a brilliant career, but to the small deeds and words that make an impact in the lives of others, giving them support and encouragement when it’s most needed.

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  9. Enjoyed that thoughtful piece…a subject that is contemplated by almost all of us. There is the belief that we each have a purpose in this life and when that is achieved we are taken. Of course we are not given a script with stage entry and exit so most everybody makes it through kind of blindfolded with no knowledge of what will happen next nor when our final day will arrive. So I say live your life as much as possible how you choose…if you are happy with both feet on the ground..stay there, but for those of us who wish to…soar with the wind at your back…

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    1. That’s very true. Perhaps some people are happy with their feet planted firmly on the ground but I’m not so sure. I believe that all human beings are aspirational and have desires to achieve something, no matter how humble or altruistic. An interesting topic for another day!

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  10. This is the first piece I’ve read concerning Peter that didn’t make me cry. Life is meaningless without aspirations, risk, encouragement and kindness…. I am happy to risk it all so I can say I truly lived.

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  11. Eloquently put as usual Michael. I believe if Peter had a second chance, he’ll do it all over again with no regrets. Life is meant to be lived to the fullest. I’ll fly any day!

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  12. This was amazing uncle. I am seriously eager to fly, but its seems like moments of doubt and confusion place weights on my wings! Hearing about that young man moved me, he is just 2 years my senior and he has accomplished things I dream of. His soul is at peace! The comments are lovely too.
    My question is, to anyone really… How does one really fly? When faced with obstacles, how do you extend your wings, if winds seem to blow against your flight? How do you figure it out, and soar, without a stop?

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    1. Hi Danielle, great questions. I think it comes down to two things: your desire and your determination. Desire – you need to want success really badly, so much that you are prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve it. Determination – you keep going no matter what obstacles and setbacks come your way. All of this is easier if you are pursuing something that you have a passion for because you will enjoy the journey more. Finally, to underpin it all, you need a strong dose of faith – faith in yourself and an unshakable belief that things will always work out.

      Right now, the only thing stopping you from flying is you. The winds are no less favourable for you than for anyone else and I dare say that you have been given plenty of help that has made it easy for you to take off.

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      1. A great question from Danielle and an equally great response from you Michael…they interviewed the top most successful persons in the world recently and the singular common trait in them all was “having a passion for what they did”… you are correct in advising Danielle that having passion does make it more fun and easier to gain that altitude…

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  13. Hey Sir, love your piece. I share the same philosophy. I will rather fly than crawl. When one finds a purpose and passion, even measured risks are welcome (Watch the movie- the secret life of Walter mitty). Truth is, each day we live we face a thousand ways to die. Let’s make it count. May God strengthen Bello’s family. Amen.

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