. . . Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the centurion said, "Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. "For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it.”. . . And Jesus said to the centurion, “You may go; as you have believed, let it be done for you.” And at that very hour [his] servant was healed.—Matt 8:7-9; 13I have always known as far back as I can remember as a child that when we keep quiet about injustice or abuse, someone dies a death, but when we are able to open our mouth and say NO, someone’s life is spared. I was in primary 4 when one of my classmates farted loudly in class and in the manner of 10 years old, everyone laughed excitedly, and following this, they began to call the boy who farted, Fart. He was embarrassed and each time he was called Fart, I could see him wishing for the ground to open up and swallow him. I couldn’t take it and one afternoon about a week after the incident, another boy called him Fart and I lit into him as I yelled “will you stop it! Everyone farts, you fart, your mummy farts, your daddy farts and even Gowon (the military head of the government at the time) farts, so let him be and stop calling him that, that is not his name.” The whole class including the teacher, I remember his name, Mr. Oyesola went quiet, and no one spoke for about five minutes. Mr. Oyesola stared at me and I steadily held his gaze, he nodded approvingly at me. Slowly, the class returned to what we were doing, but more important, no one called him Fart ever again.
I have always had a huge issue with unfairness in whichever way it presents its face and my blood would boil for a long time, as I am not able to put it out of my mind no matter how much I tried. And I have been a victim of what is not fair and just many times as well.
And there is a lot that is not fair in the world we live in which has led to the birth of the adage, “Life is not fair.” It is true that life is not fair, just like the fingers in our hands are not equal, but those are in the purview of destiny of birth as to social class, race, geographical place of birth, body shape and etc. and those, most of us can live with, but what tears our souls asunder are the oppressions and the prejudices that we visit upon one another every day, as in rejecting, discriminating, abusing, killing others because they are different from us or have a different way of living their lives or because of their gender, sexual orientation or their belief systems.
None of these are new, each human being from the beginning of time has always been lazy about doing the hard work of expanding his or her view of the world, and would do everything in his or her power to have the whole world comply with what he or she believes or is comfortable with. This is called Egocentricity, when a person believes that he or she is the only one that matters in a whole world of 7.125 billion of people and each of that 7.125 billion people should live their lives to make him or her comfortable by not doing anything that will be upsetting to him or her.
A lot of people that I know, good people, are upset at the thought that some people’s sexual orientation are different than theirs and would want such different people to disappear from the world, that way, and when the said different people are hurt or killed because they are different, they tell themselves, ‘they had it coming to them by their choices,’ instead of seeing such an act as a gashing wound in the world that we all live in.
A lot of kind and well meaning people say to themselves when yet another black boy is killed by the police, ‘he was a thug,’ and when people take to the streets to protest the killing would say ‘these people are ruining their case by these acts of vandalism,’ instead of seeing it as something that de-humanizes them and makes them supporters of genocide.
Women all over the world are expected to be in the degraded position of second class citizens and the woman who dares to step out of that place where she had been put is punished with the names, bitch when she is young and witch when she is older, other names are whore, ugly, fat.
My daughter recently told me that in schools in the US, black girls are in detention and suspended more than even black boys, and this is because people can tolerate a vocal white girl and a boisterous black boy but a black girl is expected to be submissive and quiet, and when a black girl is articulate and assertive especially in defense of herself, she had violated a sacred rule that says a black woman is supposed to contain all the dumping of negativity on her without complaining, and if she is not made to be quiet now, she would become an angry black woman like her mother and aunts in the work force.
For months, I have wanted to blog about this train of thought but I couldn’t really find the words until help arrived in the form of a story in Paulo Coelho’s book Aleph. I will not go into the details of the story, but in summary, the author on his personal quest to find out what could be blocking his joy in his present life was able to go back in time and to a life that he lived during the period of Inquisition and witch burning. Nine women, all under the age of sixteen were accused of being witches, being able to see into the future, and of having had intercourse with the devil. Their actual crime was that a farmer who liked to have sex with girls had tried to have sex with some of them and they had refused him and so he accused them of these hideous crimes. The crimes of the others were that they were very beautiful women, or that they were from rich and noble families.
They were tortured until they confessed to things that they didn’t do to prevent their bodies from being torn apart as they were tied to the torture ‘bed’ designed for just that, to tear a body apart. Paulo Coelho in this past life operated the torture bed. One of the women was in love with Paulo in that life time, he was the love of her life and though she was a noble woman and he a peasant, and as such their union was forbidden, she had been thinking of ways to be able to run away with him. He was a member of the Church and he loved this woman as well, and so in order to prevent the more sadistic soldiers from operating the torture bed, and to spare her unnecessary pain, he opted to be the one to extract her confession from her, and she confessed to the love that she had for him. That was her crime and her sin before the Church.
Paulo Coelho in Aleph continues:
[the Inquisitor said] “Gentlemen, I await confirmation of the verdict in writing, unless anyone here has something to say in defense of the accused. If so, we will reconsider the accusation.”
They all turned to look at me, some hoping I will say nothing, others that I will save her, for, as she herself said, I know her.
Why did she have to say those words here? Why did she bring up feelings that had been so difficult to overcome when I decided to serve God and leave the world behind? Why didn’t she allow me to defend her when I could have saved her life? If I speak out in her favor now, tomorrow the whole town will say that I saved her only because she said she had always loved me. My reputation and my career would be ruined forever.
“If just one voice is raised in her defense, I am prepared to demonstrate the leniency of the Holy Mother Church.” The Inquisitor said.
I am not the only one here who knows her family. Some owe them favors, others money; others still are motivated by envy. No one will say a word, only those who owe them nothing.
“Shall I declare the proceedings closed?” The Inquisitor, despite being more learned and more devout than I, seem to be asking me for my help. After all, she did tell everyone here that she loved me.
“Only speak a word, and my servant will be healed.” The centurion said to Jesus. Just one word and my servant will be saved.
My lips do not open.
The Inquisitor does not show it, but I know that he despises me. He turns to the rest of the group. “The church, represented here by myself, her humble defender, awaits confirmation of the death penalty.”
The men gather in a corner, and I can hear the devil shouting ever louder in my ears, trying to confuse me as he had earlier that day. However, I left no irreversible marks on the bodies of the four other girls. I have seen some brothers pull the lever as far as it will go, so that the prisoners die with all their organs destroyed, blood gushing from their mouths, their bodies a whole thirty centimeters longer.
The men returned with a piece of paper signed by all. The verdict is the same as it was for the other four girls: death by burning.
The Inquisitor thanks everyone and leaves without addressing another word to me. The men who administer justice and law leave, too, some already discussing the latest piece of local gossip, others with their heads bowed. I go over to the fire, pick up one of the red-hot coals, and place it under my habit against my skin. I smell scorched flesh, my hands burn and my body contracts in pain, but I do not move.
“Lord,” I say, when the pain recedes, “may these marks remain forever on my body, so that I may never forget who I was today.” pp188-190.Some might say, but this is not the era of inquisition and witch burning, but isn’t it? Have we really stopped burning people who are different than us at the stakes?
In the past year, Nigeria along with some other African countries arrived at writing laws that criminalize two men or two women who love one another. And it saddens me because growing up in Nigeria; it was a common sight to see two men who are bosom friends holding hands in public, but now showing such affection will land you in prison.
Only say the word and my servant will be healed. This is the power that we all have; each one of us. At the age of ten, I said the word and a boy was spared the agony of having his beautiful name well thought out by his parents to celebrate the joy of his birth change to fart.
My boyfriend when I was 19 years old predicted that I would divorce when I get married because I was intolerant of abuse and mistreatment.
My roommate in college in exasperation called me a feminist, to her it wasn’t a compliment but I felt very proud.
We are all responsible, even for things that happened in history before we were born and not necessarily because we had lived in the past and participated in the evolving history of this world like Paulo Coelho, but because we are all nursed with the milk of the history of our different societies, and we identify with them and unconsciously perpetuate them in the manner in which things are transmitted down generations. Henrik Ibsen in Peer Gynt (1828-1906) said,
“Everything I have written is most minutely connected with what I have lived through, if not personally experienced; every new work has had for me the object of serving as a process of spiritual liberation and catharsis; for every man shares the responsibility and the guilt of the society to which he belongs. That was why I once inscribed in a copy of one of my books the following dedicatory lines: To live is to war with trolls in heart and soul, To write is to sit in judgment on oneself.”And so we all have the power to say NO for that is the WORD that could mean life or death for someone. Just say the WORD and a life is spared.
Our silences, our non-involvement and our sitting on the fence condone Inequality, Maltreatment, Oppression, Injustices and Prejudices of different kinds, they are not neutrality but they are resounding Yes.
We need to say the WORD when our gay colleague is being ridiculed or marginalized. We must say the WORD, when the transgender in our college is being picked on. We should say the WORD when that child of color is being put down and we should say the WORD when women are paid less than men for doing the same work. We must all teach our children to say the WORD when a classmate is being bullied in their school or on the playground.
Just say the word and my servant will be healed. And the centurion servant was healed.
Paulo Coelho: Aleph
Henrik Ibsen; Peer Gynt