Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Letting go yesterday and living today

Yesterday and the day before yesterday are not like today. (Swahili)

Dear Zayda,

Each new day is unlike any that has gone before.

This first year of your life is special for your mom and dad, because your daily changes remind that that nothing remains the same from one day to the next. Those close enough to you to see you grow can know that what is true about you, is true about us all. No day that is past can be anything like the day we have now.

Yet many of us feel weighed down by our yesterdays as we get older. We may see ourselves as stuck in old thoughts and old habits. We allow our yesterdays to dictate what our today will be like. We allow the past to decide the future.

But we can always take charge of today.

Uncle Mass (my mother's brother whose real name is Colin) has been a farmer all his life. Being with living things is a way to remind us that each day is different. Plants grow and change through different seasons. Our plants in Jamaica do not have a long winter sleep as yours do in Canada, but we have seasons just the same. So Uncle Mass has his time to plant seeds, to nourish his plants, and to harvest the fruit. He keeps cows and goats as well, and each day for his animals is also different from the days that went before.

Uncle Mass is now 93 years old. He continues to let go of the yesterdays and treat each new day like a gift. By eight o’clock each morning. Uncle Mass has completed about half-day’s work on his farm. He will take a break in the middle of the day when the sun hot, and then he is back doing his chores in the cool of the afternoon. He remains as slim and healthy as men young enough to be his grandsons. Recently, he was on his roof directing repairs. When I visit him, we discuss local and global politics, and he has opinions on all the events going on around him. He and his brother Bob are neighbours, but Uncle Mass is as independent as he was when I was a child.

Aunt Ettie (my father’s sister)is a special example to me of focusing on what we can do in the present rather than living in regrets about yesterday. On one of her trips to England, someone stole all her money at the start of her holiday. I am sure she was sad for a moment, but she did not spend her “today” feeling sorry about what “yesterday” put in her way. Aunt Ettie called on family in England for help. A cousin was happy to lend her the funds she needed, and Aunt Ettie had a great trip. Only when she returned to Jamaica did she even mention to family here the loss she had suffered.

Aunt Ettie showed us how useless it was to allow yesterday, with its joys or pains, to keep us from enjoying today.

Yes, the joys of yesterday can hold us back if we allow them to do so. Some of us, when we are at school, forget that the good report was about yesterday’s work. We need to know that today is a different day with new things to learn if we want to keep growing.

It seemed as if no one could beat Jamaica’s Usain Bolt after he broke the world record at the 100 metres sprint race. However, he recently had a reminder of how different yesterday is from today. A runner from the USA, Tyson Gay, recently ran faster than Usain in a race.

Today is the day, my grandniece. The Romans used to say, “Carpe diem”. That means “capture the day.” May we, like Uncle Mass and Aunt Ettie, live fully in the present.


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