‘The hardest thing to do is to be true to yourself, especially when everyone is watching’ — Dave Chappelle.
Self-knowing is the ultimate act of truism. It’s like saying to one’s inner man — this is who I am, no-frills, no excuses; this is where I am right now, I can’t fake me; I won’t fake me… take me, or leave me. Having said that, though, to face yourself in the mirror, to admit to who you really are — sans tinted-coloured lenses et al. — is still not a comfortable place to arrive in the journey of self-realization.
Ironically, one of the most extraordinary self-truism acts I have ever witnessed came from my uncle’s household.
Aunty had made up her mind about her children’s profession long before each had taken their first baby steps. Her third child (at that time, she had just three children — and all girls) was going to be an engineer, the second, a lawyer, and the first (Aunty’s pride and joy, her ultimate dream, her raison d’etre) was going to be a doctor. Aunty’s mind was quite set on that. She introduced my first cousin to visitors as ‘Doctor’ and groomed the child with that profession in mind.
Her plan worked because my cousin entered the university years later, with the faculty of medicine as her podium for the next seven years. Unfortunately, the girl took after her father, and for as long anyone could remember, had a knack for numbers. Six years into her medical studies (with just one left to finish), my cousin came home one day and announced that she had had enough medicine. She wanted to switch to accounting. As she narrated later, her mother almost had apoplexy.
‘Account what!’ the older woman exploded. At first, she tried to cajole her daughter into staying put with medicine — extolling the good the girl would do, the lives she would impact if she qualified as a doctor. When sweet words didn’t work, Aunty had ‘chilled’ out her daughter with silent treatments; when that didn’t work either, she threatened to evict her from the family home. But my cousin stood her ground. According to her, Aunty’s final words were, ‘if you continue with this foolishness, you will not see a single kobo from your father or me. You want to study accounting? Well, be prepared to pay your own tuition.’ And she meant it.
You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge!
My cousin said though she’d mulled over it for more than a year, at first, she wasn’t able to bring herself to actually walk up to parents to inform them of her decision to quit medical school. Not only because she was afraid, but also because she wanted to be a good daughter, to please them. But matters came to a head one day at the lab when she was forced to admit she could never make a good doctor; however hard she tried. And so, despite her mother’s threats, the girl stood her ground. So too did her mother. And my cousin found herself with the genuine possibility of not having anything to show despite spending over six years in the university.
Which was what led her to seek me out years after I had left their home.