Just do what you can

Kingsley was buried today. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect but it turned out to be an eye-opening experience. I sat under a canopy, by a dusty roadside with half of the mourners, looking across the street at the other half who were slightly obscured by the casket. Out in front was a pastor in a nicely-cut, shiny, blue suit, bellowing hoarsely through his exhortation and demanding ever louder ‘amens’ and ‘hallelujahs’ from the sombre crowd. The hymns had that weary sound I remember from childhood Pentecostal services in Jamaica – a blend of sadness, age and resignation. 

The younger members of the gathering, who could have brought some life and energy to the singing, were too busy looking cool in their all-black outfits that bore tributes in stark white lettering to ‘B-Boy-K’. Towards the end of the service, many of them performed in honour of their fallen hip-hop dance comrade who had earned their loyalty and affection with his ‘skillz’. Within minutes of being announced, they cordoned off our section of the street and exploded in a series of somersaults, backflips, handstands and energetic, almost angry, choreographed dance moves. 

What happened next took me completely by surprise. The dancers moved wordlessly towards the casket, surrounding it with arms outstretched, then lifted it and headed off in the direction of the main road. I stopped briefly to see Kingsley’s mother, tiny and frail in her grief, and commiserated with the rest of the family. I didn’t realise that they all knew who I was, thanking me for everything that I tried to do for him. In turn, I was grateful for their kind words but couldn’t help but wonder whether I had done enough to earn them.  

Could I have done more? Would it have saved him? I’ve been having these thoughts ever since I heard of his demise nearly two weeks ago. I remind myself that Kingsley was old enough to make his own choices but my logic doesn’t erase my feelings of guilt completely. As I edged slowly through the surging mob that had now stormed the main road with coffin still aloft, I had a sense that maybe these streets had the kind of raw appeal that was not easy for an impressionable young man to turn his back on. 

In need of reassurance and some upliftment, I headed straight from the funeral to visitors’ day at St Patrick’s College, where Christian was waiting for me. According to his form teacher, he continues to improve and should do well in the upcoming end-of-term exams. By his own smiling admission, Christian appears to be getting to grips with mathematics, thanks to a new teacher and a fresh approach. That was all I needed to hear – he’s trying his best to make use of the opportunity

After chit-chatting over plates of grilled fish in a nearby restaurant, I let Christian see the funeral programme and read ‘Dreams that die’, my blogpost inspired by Kingsley. He became sober, reflective even, as he asked about the decisions Kingsley had made. I did my best to frame my answers around his own future and the decisions he will be making soon – about higher education, a career and a life he can be proud of. I’m hoping that recent events and today’s conversation will have a lasting effect on him. 

After this morning’s rather grim beginning, the day ended with hope for at least one bright young future. I have learned that you can not impose your dreams on another human being but you can do your best to steer them in the right direction, towards their own dreams. 

I’ll leave you with one of the sayings that guides my journey through life:

“Do what you can, with what you have, wherever you are.” (Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt, 1858-1919)

24 thoughts on “Just do what you can

  1. Michael I empathise with how you feel about the death of this unfortunate young man. It is frustrating when you try to help someone because you can see a better future for them but sadly they are not able to imagine that better future. I have encountered this many times and can only reassure myself with the knowledge which you have cited in your blog…which I will para-phrase….you can take the horse to the water but you cannot force him to drink. This remains an eternal truth. Be at peace X

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  2. Its been a reflection on how life can turn out if we don’t make the right decisions, you did your best, hope I wish other teenagers could learn.

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  3. Indeed, you cannot force your dreams on anybody. In April last year, I wrote a documentary for the former first lady on Calabar street kids. During my research, I found out that most of the street kids had be rehabilitated more than once. But the allure of the freedom that the street offers kept pulling them back.

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  4. Indeed, you cannot force your dreams on anybody.

    In April last year, I wrote a documentary for the former first lady on Calabar street kids.

    During my research, I found out that most of the street kids had be rehabilitated more than once. But the freedom that the street offers kept pulling them back.

    You did your bid, posterity will always remember that..

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    1. Thanks very much for this – that’s an interesting piece of information. I looked at his friends blocking traffic and bringing chaos to the area yesterday, and realised that this kind of fame may be the ultimate objective for some of these kids – some kind of relevance in a society where they feel irrelevant. Blessings!

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  5. Could you have done more?

    Michael, my heart goes out to you at this time. I believe I know that feeling. However, you alone can answer that question sincerely for yourself. In life there are many instances where we would have done things differently if we were allowed a little peep into the future. But as humans, we do not enjoy such luxury, we learn by experience. And no matter the amount of good we have in our hearts our delivery will not always be fully satisfactory if we do not have the experience and time to see us through the assignment.
    We shouldn’t be too hard on yourself, but be consoled in the fact that we live to learn…and thus learn to live.
    And it seems Christian is already beginning to benefit from the experience gained in Kingsley’s case.

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    1. Godwin, you’re absolutely right. We don’t always have foresight of all the eventualities or the experience of doing it before. I think I’ve learned that my involvement in such matters cannot be half-hearted and that I should do everything that I can before retreating. Hence my decision to focus on just one child and see it through. Thanks for your input.

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  6. Micheal at least u tried and u made an effort, that’s what is most important.
    Unfortunately we don’t particularly have 100% control of how some of these things turn out no matter how much or how little our efforts are because the person involved is the most important decision maker and our efforts or good will thrives on d decisions they make and that is not something we can control especially if they are unwilling.
    Like it’s always said “u can take a donkey to d stream, but u can’t force it to drink”
    I feel sorry for his mum.
    Don’t beat yourself up, you did your part.

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    1. Thanks for your words of comfort, Bethia. I’ve come to the same conclusion and I’m content. Like you, it’s his mother and close family that I feel most sorry for. Life goes on and I’ll use the lessons I’ve learned from this experience.

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  7. What is important Michael is that you created an opportunity for change, growth and development for a young person. The quality of our lives is determined by the choices we have. Kingsley had choices and he took the road that met his felt need at that time. He was at a fork in the road and the opportunity you gave him was a route to a brighter future, however he took the road that had the seemingly brighter light.

    In our youthful folly, popularity and cheap fame become a barometer for our decision-making criteria. The conditioning of the young impressionable mind is at the heart of everything. Music videos, celebrity gossip, fashion, peer pressure, neighbourhood environment are all strong visual impressions which lead to world views in a young mind. Strong family values, professional futures and lives of positive contribution don’t hold the same sway unless modelled by parents, mentors and role models. As we already know, there is a dearth of strong parents and leaders and then there is the factor of neighbourhood economics. So everything goes into the young person’s sub-conscious, framing a view of the world and how they believe they ought to behave in it.

    Michael, when you met Kingsley, you could only work with how he showed up with his state of mind. You heard his desires, took action and created an opportunity for him to fulfil his dream. You gave him encouragement, guidance and inspiration. You spent your hard-earned money and paid for his education. You trusted him. However, you were rewarded by his own deceit as he squandered his education fund. The other ‘reward’ you have is the feeling of guilt that you could have done more to help him. Unfortunately you couldn’t.

    I think the greatest thing we all can do is to live exemplary lives that display integrity, honesty and inspiration. Yes, and let’s help as many Kingsleys and Christians as we can. Be not weary in well-doing.

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  8. My take on this one Mike, is that there has been so much to learn from the Kingsley/Christian stories. And that we must always learn to brace up and move on, hoping for the better. So for instance, while Kingsley’s is a wasted opportunity, Chrstian’s is a promising one. One last one from me Mike: You have a way with words!!!

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  9. Hello Michael, is that the boy you enrolled at my families school? So sad. Never met him though. The frustration you’ve had over this boy and how he ended are the burden that is placed on us all as parents. As I look at my 2 boys, I wonder if the discipline is enough or the approach of being their best friend so they confide in me when faced with peer pressure is better. It all gets so scary when you add the odd chance of losing your child to an accident or terminal ailment. My resolve is to love ❤ them like today was the last day. Point them in the best directions that you probably know how. Let them make their own choices when able and leave the rest to God. Do have a lovely day.

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    1. Ah, Ikpeme, long time! I don’t think it’s the same boy – I think it was Christian. I moved him to St Patrick’s because he needed a boarding environment to ensure study and discipline after school hours – my work and travel schedule would not allow for that. I believe that you are adopting the right approach – discipline, but without being too harsh, and a love/friendship that allows them to confide in you. You do your best and let God do the rest.

      Great to hear from you.

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  10. I applaud your philanthropic efforts towards the youth. God bless you. Keep up the good work – don’t let what happened stop you. Cheers

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