Do not just survive, thrive.

There were several goals that I hoped to achieve upon successfully completing my BCOM degree. During the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, I have developed a refined set of personal, academic, and professional goals. However, I feel that achieving these goals will be more effectively facilitated by not just surviving but by thriving to a greater height in every situation that comes my way.  “After all, we will be graduating in June”, My friends and I were always saying these words whenever we were faced with difficulties. I later learnt that we were all wrong. There is more to life than graduation.

This period of the pandemic has not been easy for me. I earlier felt that this pandemic came at the wrong time since this was the time I was supposed to sit for my final undergraduate exams and graduate in June, the long-awaited day by my dad since I was his first and last daughter to ever make it to the University. This graduation really meant a lot to him. This was also the time my dad got seriously ill and passed away in June – and in the same quarter of the year, I was to be confirmed for an employment opportunity yet people were being laid off or receiving pay cuts. This meant that I needed to be more committed at work, working extra hard, and praying more. 

Waking up, going to work, attending online evening classes beside my dad at the hospital was my routine for three months. I almost quitted my work since it was stressful to commute from Madaraka to Westlands and then to Langata to sleep at the hospital or at my brother’s place to beat the curfew, but the question was where would I get the money to pay for the hospital bills? As St Josemaria would put it “With God’s grace, you have to tackle and carry out the impossible… because anybody can do what is possible”, I did not quit but refreshed my mind-set to open up for the greater responsibilities that had come my way since my brother and I were the only family in Nairobi to take care for my dad, the rest of the family members were locked down in the village. I knew I was not getting worse. It was just then that I had more light to see myself as I really was. Hence, I had to avoid even the slightest hint of discouragement.

Many would see the pandemic as totally disastrous but I looked at it from a different viewpoint. In his teachings, St Josemaria would advise that “when you are worried. You Listen: to what may happen in your interior life or in the world that surrounds you, never forget that the importance of events or of people is very relative. Take things calmly; let time pass; and then, as you view persons and happenings dispassionately and from afar, you will acquire the perspective that will enable you to see each thing in its proper place and in its true size.” I have seen this period as an excellent opportunity for me and a very rare one to find. 

I haven’t spent approximately 95%  of my life with my parents. I started living with my grandmother at the age of two and later joined a boarding high school then to Nairobi for my university education. Being with my dad during his last moments was really a learning period. I learnt a lot from him. I acknowledged that he was a different dad from what I knew all these years. I could see great love and hope for his entire family in him.  I could see how important he was in the eyes of my family. I would leave work and rush to the hospital to prepare for my online evening classes then spend some moments with him. Without the pandemic for sure someone would have come from the village to look after him, since I would always say that I was busy either with class work, job or sports. I did not have much time for my family and friends. I have learnt that as we make our personal goals, the goals should not be too personal to an extent that we exclude our family and close friends from the equation. In addition, we need these people to understand them better.

During this period, whenever I was challenged by a situation I would always refer to St.Josemaria’s teachings illustrated in his book ‘The Way’. He says that “Outside events have placed you in voluntary confinement, worse perhaps, because of its circumstances, than the confinement of a prison. You have suffered an eclipse of your personality. On all sides, you feel hemmed in: selfishness, curiosity, misunderstanding, and people talking behind your back. All right: so what? Have you forgotten your free will and that power of yours as a ‘child’? The absence of flowers and leaves (external action) does not exclude the growth and activity of the roots (interior life). Work: things will change, and you will yield more fruit than before, and sweeter too.”

St. Josemaria also says that “if you accept difficulties with a faint heart you lose your joy and your peace, and you run the risk of not deriving spiritual profit from the trial. I feel that there is some personal growth that has occurred in me and I have greater zeal in understanding and helping people whenever I can. Let us not just survive but also thrive in these trying times.

This article was written by Dinah Ayoo Okwako, a Bachelor of Commerce student.


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