Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Monday, August 30, 2010

Finding peace with what runs inside us

You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not that which runs inside you. (Rwanda)

Dear Zayda,

Michael Jackson is one of many examples of people who have the means to outdistance what is running after them, but still become trapped by what is running inside them.

Michael had a lot of what many of us imagine will make us content. His songs – like “Ben”, “Man in the Mirror”, and “Billie Jean” – will remain popular for generations to come. Michael was so famous that his concerts were certain to be sold out. When he died, he was rehearsing for a tour in which all fifty concerts were sold out. At the height of his career, he had so much money that he could probably buy the most expensive item in the most expensive shop, and not notice the difference. His main home was a mansion on a ranch, where he wanted that money could buy.

This man had the talent, money, and fame to outdistance whatever ran after him. However, he could not escape what ran inside him.

Peace comes when we no longer feel as if we have to run away from what is inside. Perhaps, like Michael, we had an unhappy childhood. Perhaps, like him, we did not feel loved, cared for, or protected. Michael could be excused for thinking he had no childhood at all, because he was filling concert halls when most little boys are batting balls in the back yard.

If memories of a lost or stolen childhood keep running inside our minds, we may become ill, unless we get professional help. These memories can cause us to angry at ourselves or at others. We may then act in ways that harm ourselves, harm others, chase others away, or try to bind others to us by force or threat. Some may try to re-live their childhood through children.

Michael tried to revisit his childhood by creating a giant play space with its own zoo and amusement park. As an adult, he invited children to play with him. He had the overnight stays and the pajama parties he never could have had as a child. The child in Michael must have been amazed that the adult world thought he was harming any of these children. Perhaps he was indeed acting like the child who fulfills its own needs with no thought for what may follow.

Like Michael, we may dislike our looks because of what others say about us. Most of have to live with our looks, but Michael wealth gave him choices. So he could afford the plastic surgery that changed him from being black, curly-headed, broad-nosed, and full-lipped to looking almost like a white female.

In trying to outdistance what was running inside him, Michael might have become like the child who has no adult to guide him. He had the money to buy whatever he thought he needed. No one seemed to be able to say, “Michael, stop! That is not good for you.” Therefore, when Michael needed more and more medication to ease pain and help him fall asleep, he found those whom he could pay to bring him what he wanted.

Michael was only fifty years old, and days away from his concert tour, when the medication took his life. With the fame and money that seemed to run after Michael, he was unable to come to terms with what ran inside of him.

The best way to deal with what runs inside us is to love ourselves as we are. The best favor your mom and dad can do for you is to help you to be confident in who you are, how you look, and what you do. What you can do for yourself is to realize that the person who is unknown, penniless, and homeless might be more at ease with himself than Michael Jackson managed to be.

Coming to terms with what runs inside can be a gateway to finding peace.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

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When the occasion arises, there is a proverb to suit it. (Proverb from Rwanda and Burundi)

Welcome to this space where we can talk about proverbs that we can relate to (or not), and proverbs that make sense to us (or not). Most of all we can discuss how proverbs make us think about life and living. We can also share experiences of proverbs that have provided us with lifelines or just the chance to reflect.

Some of the proverbs here may also be found in "Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs", published by Random House and authored by Askhari Johnson Hodari and me. The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the unique features of our book is that we arranged the proverbs according to life cycle, in sections including, Birth, Childhood, Love, Marriage, and Intimacy, Challenge, and Death.

For more proverbs and for information on Lifelines: the Black Book of Proverbs, please visit us at