My grandmother on my mother’s side is the only living grandparent I have. She’s the only one I’ve ever really known. We all call her “mama.” She has seen more in her lifetime than most people ever will: She has survived a civil war, great poverty for much of her life, a child and grandchild passing on the same day, and much more than she would ever tell. The last time I saw my grandmother when I was visiting Nigeria, she said to me that my brothers and I have to build her a new house before she passes. In literal terms, she meant that she wishes to see my siblings and I succeed even more while she is alive. Somehow in spite of everything, my grandmother is alright.
Both my grandfathers died before I was born – my maternal grandfather saw my mother while she was pregnant with me but he is said to have died of heartbreak. He died soon after he found out his daughter and his grandchild had died – my mother’s sister and niece. That was the year I was born. My mother lost three loved ones while she was pregnant with me, and had it not been for a miraculous intervention during my birth, she would have lost me as well. My mother ends every conversation with, “Remain Blessed.” Somehow in spite of everything, my mother is alright.
My father used to write against Nigeria’s dictatorial governments in the 80s and 90s. He knows what it is to fear for life, to leave a cause behind, to lose everything and have to rebuild. Yet the only time I’ve ever seen my dad come close to tears was when he lost his mother when I was ten years old. We lived in Botswana at the time and he never got to say goodbye. He had been the one to close his dad’s eyes, and I suspect that it’s only through prayer that he finds peace in being unable to be there for his mother in her final hours. As he often says, “Life goes on and so must we.” My dad is alright.
The summer and fall after college, when I was no longer going to law school was a summer and fall of a lot of tears. I was confused, I was scared, and I was broken to be perfectly honest. And after I ended up working for a startup that eventually failed, I was broken some more. I moved four times last year, and for the most part, I would characterize my life after college up until this year as, “one thing after the other.” But I’m alright.
My family, my friends, and my experiences have something in common – we’re all, alright. Saying “everything is going to be alright” can be aggravating in the moment, it can be the last thing that any of us really want to hear. In the moments that we hear these words, we’re not quite sure that everything is going to be alright. If we’re honest, a great part of life is suffering, pain, failing, and uncertainty. It’s why we all relate to sad stories easily. And while life is also happy and full of joy and laughter, I think it’s important to find peace of mind even when things aren’t going well. I think that’s one way to have authentic happiness – to find it in authentic pain.
I tell people that they’re going to be alright all the time. And I used to say it superfluously; just because it was something to say. But I found those words can be the most meaningful things people say. When I was sixteen one of my last volunteerism activities while living in Botswana was visiting a young girl who was dying of AIDS. I believe we were around the same age and I went with our parish priest to give her Communion and visit with her. I have never seen anyone so weak in my entire life. The next day the priest told me she was dead. I still remember the numbness that overtook my senses. He said, “She’s alright, you know? She’s finally at peace.” I have to believe it.
When I think of that story, and I tell people that everything is going to be alright, I don’t tell them that because it’s something to say, I say it because I believe it; I have to believe it. People are in pain in so many different ways. And sometimes I am overwhelmed by just how awful this fallen world is; I am overwhelmed by how awful we are to each other. And when we are facing what seems like something greater than what we can handle, we can feel abandoned, helpless, and hopeless. We can forget that what we are facing, in fact – all that we are facing – is ultimately temporary.
Because when I think about the people that have come before me who have faced so much more than I ever will; and even when I think about my very short life story so far, there are just no better words than, “Everything is going to be alright.” Because in the end – sometimes quite literally – it is. So if you ever find yourself not knowing what to believe anymore, I hope you’ll at least believe that somehow, someway, everything is going to be alright.