Ordinary People, Exceptional Footprints

The world is filled with exceptional people, not by the virtue of their looks and appearance, but by the quality of what flows through their minds. Most times, irrespective of the masks we all don, the inward always shows through.

And this inner quality is both important and powerful because it shapes us by virtue of our associations; who we ‘roll’ with usually determines who we are or key personality traits. If you hang out with idiots all the time, you’ll most likely end up being a jackass; if you hang out with geeks then…go figure (Hello Apple!). We are who we are because we rub off on each other at different points in time.

As a result of this relational osmosis, some people rub off extraordinary attributes – faith, kindness, determination, hope, love, endurance, etc – off each other; while others rub off vanity, envy, hatred, and so on. Hence, I believe the quality of associations we make in the course of our lives largely help to define us for better or worse.

I’ve met quite a number of people with beautiful minds in my short time here on earth; and I’ve met twice the same number of douchebags but I tend to concentrate more on the positives. Hell, even the negatives have their positive purpose sometimes so it’s not a wise move to totally ignore them. An old school photographer knows the power of the negatives because they are indispensable in getting the eventual positives. I’ve been old that a bad person always has a day when he’ll come good…. No wonder policemen have miscreants they go to for info when they get stuck – yeah, the bloody snitches.

I met Joe (not real name) back in secondary school and was immediately drawn to him. I couldn’t explain it; I was really shy at the time and took time warming up to people. But it wasn’t the same with cool Joe. Everybody liked him because he always had this cheerful demeanour and was interested in the lives of everyone he related with. He was funny, smart, gentle, kind and exuded a whole lot positive energy. He was a model student too and was much better at maths than I ever was (and would be). I envied him because of this, he had that capacity to challenge you and make you wanna do better. He would push you without even trying, despite the fact that he’s blind.

I bet you didn’t see that coming but that’s what appeared to be the only chink in Joe’s armour. He was not born blind but became so as a result of an illness suffered at a young age; a disease which almost altered his course in life for the worse. For someone already in the senior secondary school, that was a tough and bitter pill to swallow. Fortunately, his parents were educated and they sent him to a special school to learn how to live a purposeful life without being a liability. Sure, he was some years older than his classmates but that wasn’t a limitation because he could type and read his notes in Braille. I would sometimes sit with him during ‘prep’ hours, dictating notes to him; we all took turns at it and we never resented it. I however seemed to enjoy it more because we were in the same class and it helped me with those subjects; I simply saw it as a win-win situation. When we had exams, he would tackle questions with the aid of a typewriter after they had been read to him.

Still, he excelled in a school that wasn’t really designed for special students and he resisted attempts to lower standards for his sake. He could not take part in sports but he still enjoyed his time at the hostel because he was such good company. He never forgot a name once he knew the voice that bore it. He had a clear view of what he wanted to be in life at a time when our thoughts of the future were almost as blank as an unpainted canvas. What he lacked in sight, he made up for with one of the sharpest minds ever. He never dwelt in the murky pools of self-pity, never gave up on life and his family never gave up on him. They never treated him as a liability but as the cherished first son that he is. Fortunately, I was just in the next town to his and it only cost me N40 to visit him during the holidays.

Joe passed his senior school certificate examination on his first try. He also surmounted the University Matriculation Examination juggernaut that had other students sitting at home for years. He rejected the courses given to him that were not in line with his vision of what he wanted to be, opted to sit at home till he got what he wanted and was finally admitted into the University of Jos to study Law. In an academic system that is not really designed for disabled students, Joe graduated with a degree in Law in 2011. It didn’t matter how long it took, all that mattered was the eventual fulfillment of his vision.

I know you would probably have thought of Stevie Wonder or the late Ray Charles while reading this but we’re in Nigeria, in a society that has not successfully catered for the needs of able bodied people not to mention the ‘disabled’. There are people like Joe, even people like me begging on the streets; I do not know their circumstances so I will not judge them, except if the disability is self inflicted (but still, who am I to judge?)

Joe is an extraordinary person as far as I’m concerned and he has definitely rubbed off good qualities on me. He’s taught me never to give up on myself or on anyone else. After all, God has never given up on humanity. He’s shown me in practical terms that having sight is not the same as having a clear cut vision. He’s shown me that battles are always fought, won or lost in the mind; so far, he’s been a successful warrior. All I think of when I remember him is that if he can, I can and you can too, no matter what you are going through. So go out there and win your battles and never, ever let the seed of doubt make a cosy landing in your mind.

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