It is ok to cry. It is just as fine to let go and allow the tears to roll. But often at times, there are those of us who do not know how to mourn. Life has served us such serious blows, we can barely tell how to tackle our emotions. It takes a while for us to react in what is called a human way.
Twelve years down, I am yet to mourn the death of my cousin-sister. She who was called by names similar to mine. She who taught me to call a spade a spade and not a big spoon. She who became my big sister when the clouds were dark and I thought my life had come to an end. When all hope was lost and fate had served its blow, she understood my fears and let me be her little sister. She took me clubbing and taught me responsible partying. She taught me how to cook matumbo and how to prepare great managu. She even promised to be a god mother to my children when the time came. Little did we know that she would never live long to be an aunty. Death in her cruelty stole her from me, from us, from this life.
Today however, I am not here to mourn Wanjiku.
Dennis Le Grand Munene has been in my thoughts these few past days. Why is death so unfair?
Two years ago, he came to me. Strictly he spelt out what it takes to be a Rotaract President. At some point, I was so tired, all I heard was blah! Bla! Bla! I was bored by the verbosity. Who wanted to be a leader in campus anyway? For me, Rotary felt like a small prison. Like following a cult. And for those who know me, they will freely tell you that my freedom I will protect with my last breath. I hate rules. I hate protocol. I hate anything cultic. But wait, did I tell you that I too had my suspicions about Rotary being a ‘freemasons’ kind of cult? The chants and the salutations…oh my.
Haha, oh yes I did. I like many others out there had that deep fear hidden somewhere within. I had benefited from their support during the 2007/08 post elections violence. Seen their tents and supply boxes come to the refuge of many in the camps. And that was the origin of my interest. However, that did little to end this little fear on the inside.
So on this day, sometime in January 2017, Dennis called me out for coffee. One by one, word for word and step by step, he demystified Rotary, Rotaract and Interact. He called it, “Service Above Self. Or was it Service to Humanity?” Was that the theme of the year, I can barely recall. He was then President of the Rotaract Club of Nairobi Central. Over the next few days, he would call and text and email. Then without an alert, call from the school cafeteria asking how committed I was to the calling.
Two years down, I have been the President in formation and the outgoing President for the Rotaract Club of USIU. And Dennis, was my cheer leader, support system, my venting to sponge. Serving all and sundry and with a crew of the selfless ladies and gentlemen that continue to support the rebirth of this once great club, we did trudge on with his support. I would call, text and email. Asking even the least of queries. And at times when I wanted to give up because the baggage of leadership was too heavy on my shoulders, he stuck to his guts.
“Wanjiku, you are going nowhere. You have the strength to do this. You are a born leader. Keep fighting girl. Some day you will live to see the fruits of this strive.”
“What is your best advice to any incoming President?” I had asked.
“Learn to stand strong and believe in your abilities. Then go all out and serve the world with all that you can.” He had retaliated over and over.
“Dennis, I can barely get my committee to support our activities…” I would just gloat over and over again.
“My dear, do not take any challenges in leadership personally. That is usual. My cabinet too has had its own challenges…. Rotary is about fun. Growth. Networking. Please join us for the trip to Ssese!” Hopefully, I will join the cause this year.
“However, please, always remember this,
Madam President, there is something that nobody can take away from you and that is the way you choose to respond to what others say and do to you. The last of your freedoms is to choose your attitude in any given circumstance. Choose to be happy and positive. It is not always easy to find happiness in ourselves, but it is always impossible to find it elsewhere.
Regardless of the situation we face, our attitude is our choice. So smile as you walk away and move on from negative people and their actions.”
“Then, without fear or favour, go all out and serve humanity. Adding a smile to every heart that you touch and giving them a reason to believe in humanity. That way your legacy will forever be etched in the hearts and souls that you meet. Every day, strive to make a difference in those that you meet. No matter how small.”
Well, as I look back today, I refuse to mourn. I refuse to say that you are gone. Dennis, I refuse to say that you are not with us. And do you know why? I am a better person today, because you held my hand. Because you believed in me and in my abilities, I have become a formidable force to reckon with. A step at a time, I change a heart. Add a smile to a crying soul. Give a shoulder to those without hope. But most of all, I learned that leadership is not for the faint hearted.
Instead, I will celebrate you. Your smile. Your ever big heart. Your belief in humanity. Your love. Your selflessness. Your commitment and devotion to love, life and service above self. I will smile, because I know, you are in a better place. And with every step I take in Rotary, you will forever be cherished, for showing me the way and being the light to my calling.
I will keep fighting. From Rotary to Rotary the world over. And when I nurse a blackout and can barely recall how to end a meeting, I will still look for your face in the middle of the crowd, cheering me on. The smile ever so handy. Telling me it is possible. To keep pushing. To keep doing my best no matter what.
I would always look for clues to your advice,
In books and poems, I realized.
I would always search for the echoes
Of the lost person, the scraps of words
And breath, the glowing smiles that say,
‘Look: I existed.”
And through the whisper, I will forever say, Rest in Peace Dennis. Tunaona baadaye.
On January 14th, 2019, a flower was nipped in the bud, just as it was beginning to flourish.