Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sea and waves: accepting uncertainty

There is no sea without waves. (Swahili)

Dear Zayda,

One of the biggest favors your elders can do for you is to show you that life will have ups and downs.

Many societies promote a lie that there can be a sea without waves. Parents may believe that if they do more or less of this or that, their children will have an easier life. As we become adults, many of us believe that we can reach smooth seas if we get a college degree, become a top executive, and earn millions a year. We feel certain we will be happy if we are rich enough, slim enough, good-looking enough, and lucky enough to marry the person of our dreams.

Advertisements are usually based on the myth of the sea without waves. We are told we will have the body, the job, the home, or the spouse that will provide us with a life of smooth seas. All we need to do is to use this deodorant, drink this beverage, or buy this face cream. We may then believe we are to blame when the waves keep coming despite all do and all we buy. So we do more, and buy more, and wonder why we still cannot be happier.

If we flow with life's lessons, we learn that the sea is what it is. Sometimes it is smooth and wonderful for paddling. Sometimes the sea is angry as in a hurricane or destructive as in a tsunami.

We may choose to stay in a protected harbor and try to enjoy smooth seas all the time. However, we may become bored and even envious of others when we see them become stronger after facing rough seas.

The challenges you face as a baby will help you learn to trust yourself. You will spend many months crawling, standing, and falling down. Even when you think your legs are strong, you will still fall sometimes. If your parents tried to protect you from bruises, you would probably never be able to be a runner like your dad.

When the seas are very rough, we may decide to remain on shore for a while. We need to judge when the sea is safe for us so we do not take unnecessary risks. We may also develop surfing talent, so we have reason to welcome the high waves when they come. Sailors have discovered amazing skills when they are caught in hurricanes that create waves as high as mountains. Those who live near the sea know that waves can be their friends and their teachers, as well as their means of surviving. The uncertainly of waves can build confidence that we have the ability to handle the unknown. We may even trust ourselves create waves!

So, my grandniece, whatever you do, please leave the shore if you want to grow. Paddle, swim, surf, and sail through life, learning and growing with each new wave.


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