I have a big issue with the media. I am one of those ‘rebels’ who hate to have someone else decide what or who will dominate my thinking at any particular time. In my mind sometimes I feel like while I am sleeping, some committee is seated somewhere deciding and voting on “what Kenyans should preoccupy themselves with this week”. Have you noticed how powerful we have allowed these people to become? I refuse to have Maina Kageni and Mwalimu King’ang’i’s morning discussion, or who Ciku busts, or what Cess Mutungi is laughing about determine the conversation my wife and I will have on our way to or from work and no! the Ocampo Six are not more important to me than how my sons woke up this morning. Yet morning by morning, like a lamb to the slaughter, many people wake up and receive someone else’s agenda for their day. Don’t even get me started on the horoscope junkies. Ok just a bit, how do you know if the ‘Your Stars’ you are reading today is a re-run from 1978? Just asking…
The more I meet or get to know of ordinary people who end up doing extraordinary things, the unsung heroes, the not-so-newsworthy achievements, the more I realize that these are the majority. Those who will never make the headlines or even make it in mainstream media are the majority, the real movers and shakers of everyday life. Do you ever wake up having one of those ‘woiye’ moments? Do you feel like you are unable to accomplish much at times? Like you do not have what it takes to achieve much? Do you sometimes feel like there is something that holds you back? That one thing that if only you did not have to contend with then you would be set for life? Is it a physical disability? Well I believe we have all been there. The three people I will write about today have accomplished a lot more with far less than most of us have. When I think of them, I realize how my life is not, or should not be, determined by the challenges I face daily but by the way I respond to those challenges. I will tell you of these heroes of mine in order of how long I have known (of) them and also how closely I know them. The first two I have never met.
Roger Joseph Ebert born in 1942 is an American film critic and screenwriter and was the first ever to win a Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He is known for his film review column and for a he co-hosted for a combined 23 years. After a series of surgeries, in mid-2006, he suffered post-surgical complications related to thyroid cancer causing him to lose his lower jaw and his ability to speak. This meant that this famous movie critic would rarely be seen and never heard, but his words have never stopped.
But against all odds, some developments took place in early 2010. After several years of speaking with a computer-generated voice that Ebert activated by a keyboard, the writer stumbled across the work of CereProc, a Scottish company that analyzes prior recordings of a person’s voice to recreate a computer generated sound that is extremely similar to how a person actually speaks. For Ebert, there was no shortage of archived sound to draw from and on March 2, 2010, after months of work, he debuted his old voice on Oprah.
He wrote, “We will go full-tilt New Media: Television, net streaming, cell phone apps, Facebook, Twitter, iPad, the whole enchilada.” “The disintegration of the old model creates an opening for us. I’m more excited than I would be if we were trying to do the same old same old. I’ve grown up with the Internet. I came aboard back when MCI Mail was the e-mail of choice. I had a forum on CompuServe when it ruled the web. My web site and blog at the Sun-Times site have changed the way I work, and even the way I think. When I lost my speech, I speeded up instead of slowing down.”
Watch Roger Ebert’s TED 2011 talk here.
I want to celebrate the life of Randy Pausch, an American professor of computer science and human-computer interaction and design at Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania. At the age of 45 and at the height of his career, he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and then a year later, he was given a terminal diagnosis of 3 to 6 months of good health left. Pancreatic cancer is the fourth-deadliest cancer, killing 75 per cent of sufferers within a year. Only 4 per cent make it to their fifth year.
At this point, the previously unknown computer science expert delivered a remarkable lecture to students at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
The talk was modeled after an ongoing series of lectures labeled “The Last Lecture” where top academics are asked to think deeply about what matters to them, and then give a hypothetical “final talk”, with a topic such as “what wisdom would you try to impart to the world if you knew it was your last chance?” Pausch, a 47-year-old father of three, didn’t have to imagine anything when he gave his own “last lecture” on 18 September.
He started his lecture by acknowledging that he was not in denial, that he was dying soon; but went ahead to do a few push-ups, claiming that he was in better shape than most of his audience. During the lecture, Pausch was upbeat and humorous, alternating between wisecracks, insights on computer science and engineering education, advice on building multi-disciplinary collaborations, working in groups and interacting with other people, offering inspirational life lessons, and performing push-ups on stage. The audience was oscillating between tears, laughter and applause in full acknowledgement of the reality of “a dying man does not lie, he has no reason to.” This hour-long speech went on to be heard by millions for it became a popular YouTube video and led to other media appearances. It has since changed lives, touched American politics, and it spawned a publishing phenomenon. Pausch talked about his students, friends and colleagues with great warmth and humour. Their tributes showed that the professor was much loved. While facing death, Randy’s focus was on the beauty of life.
After his death on July 25, 2008, Randy’s wife and widow Jai testified that their marriage was actually stronger in the end than it was at the beginning because one of the things they did during the cancer odyssey was to listen to one another, tried to hear each other’s points of view. Even though he was dying of cancer, they still worked on their marriage. Every day…..every day.” Randy was known to say of hope “ ‘in my family hope is just making sense of things.’”
Watch Randy’s Last Lecture here.
Reuben is the only of these that I know personally. Reuben became blind at the age of three. We have been friends from about the year 2000. At the time I met Reuben, he was heading the Word of Truth Ministry and at some point I was privileged to chair the board of this amazing organisation. To this day, I have not forgotten the day I met Reuben. I went to his house in South C and he walked majestically down the stairs, with no assistance at all, shook my hand and immediately memorised my voice. He once told me that when he would move to a new house, he would ‘learn’ the house, count steps etc until he could walk around and find whatever he needed with no assistance. I have never seen Reuben use a cane. He would never engage in ‘pity-parties’ and is more likely to be caught up in a biblical/philosophical discussion for hours than to be sitting around feeling sorry for himself. In fact, some of the funniest comments I have had with Reuben have been about his condition. I remember once sitting with him, he received a text and said to me ‘Danzo, please read this text for me since as you know, I have a little problem with my sight!’. He also would occasionally say things like, ‘You cannot tempt me with visual pornography’ or ‘If you frown at me when I give a speech, I will not notice!’
I have told Reuben that I believe that he has been able to accomplish more than many of us, fully sighted, will ever dream of accomplishing in several lifetimes. He speaks at least six or seven languages, he has recorded close to 20 albums, plays the piano and other instruments and has reached, challenged and impacted thousands upon thousands of people in his ministries (Word of Truth, Fish FM Eldoret, Sifa Voices and more). When I spoke to Reuben last week, he had just been awarded the Presidential Order of the Grand Warrior of Kenya (OGW) for his outstanding contribution to music in Kenya.
Yet for me, what I admire most about Reuben is his love for God and desire to be used by him as he is and in whichever phase of life the Lord takes him through. The way Reuben handled the death of his wife Mercy in 2006 challenged many and was proof of this. Spend any amount of time with Reuben and you will have no doubt in your mind that God exists and has a wonderful plan for your life.
Read more about Reuben’s extraordinary life on his website.
So there, three ordinary people, three extraordinary lives. Roger, Randy, Reuben (hmmm… interesting coincidence)
Who are your heroes?