Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Never too short to see the stars

No matter how short you are, you will always see the stars. (Africa)

Dear Zayda,

Some of us are physically short, and some of us are short of something else. We may think we are short of status, money, shelter, health, friends, or education. We may think we are short of peace, wisdom, justice, and freedom. However, we will never be too short to see the stars. No matter where we are in life, we can always have big dreams. We just need to look up.

Lynn kept her eyes on the stars even when her life seemed short of everything that had meaning for her. In the 1980s, she lost her home and became separated from her husband George and her young children. One child was little more than a baby. Lynn and George were blamed for someone’s death, and they both were sent to prison for life.

Lynn could not see George, unless at the rare times when those in charge of the prison allowed them to visit each other. Relatives and friends abroad took care of their children, so Lynn could not see (let alone raise) her son and two daughters.

In the prison, Lynn was sometimes beaten. For seven years she was locked up in a cell alone. When she was finally allowed to speak with lawyers, she had almost forgotten how to use words. She worried about her husband and children, and she became sick. When it seemed she would die if she did not get medical help, those in charge of the prison allowed her to leave. However, they said she would have to return to the prison when she was healthy enough to continue serving her time. She and George were supposed to be locked up forever, so that only death was supposed to free either of them.

The medical treatment took Lynn overseas. She was free in one sense, but this time her illness was her prison. She could finally see her children who were now adults and living in different countries. She was able to meet her first grandchild. However, she was too far away to have visits with George any more. From having at least food and shelter inside the prison, she now had to fend for herself in a world that had changed a lot in the sixteen years she was locked away. She could not work because of her illness, and so she depended on family and friends to help her meet her needs.

Although she seemed short of everything, Lynn kept her eyes on the stars. Not for a moment did she doubt that she and George would be together again in this lifetime. Although she was only free till she was well enough to be a prisoner again, she worked to make George free. Since he was never supposed to leave prison, Lynn’s task would have seemed impossible to all except her. She never stopped listening for the phone call that would say George was coming home. Wherever Lynn lived, George’s spirit also lived. She would therefore choose spaces where he would be sure to enjoy. She decorated her bedroom so it would always be ready for George when (never if) he returned.

After Lynn and George were separated for 26 years, the courts finally freed George. Lynn worked with lawyers who persuaded the courts that a life sentence did not mean someone would be locked up all his life. It meant the person could be free after a certain time, if he showed he was responsible. George spent his years in prison helping prisoners to read and write, as well as develop business skills. As a result, George helped to reduce the rate of persons returning to prison time after time. At one time when a hurricane blew down the prison, and George could have walked out, he remained behind. The lawyers said George had earned the right to be free.

Lynn never thought of giving up on her dream. Asked if waking up with George in bed beside her did not seem like a daily surprise now, she said, “It’s not at all surprising to me. I always knew we would be together again.”

My grandniece, the stars can seem far away, and many of the stars are very very far away. But as long as we keep looking up, we will never be too short to see them. And the stars will guide us to goals that would be impossible if we kept our heads to the ground.

Our faith in our dreams can make the impossible happen.


Your shangazi Nothango (Yvonne)

No comments:


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