“LETS COLLABO……..” A Contribution By My Daughter – Zemaye

While encouraging me to seize every opportunity to step out on my own, a respected Nigerian photographer and friend once told me that I always like doing “group things.” He believed that collaborations were slowing me down.  I thought he was close-minded and rejected working in groups because he was not only proud of the structure and name he’d built for himself at the time in his photography career, but also probably couldn’t withstand human diversity, let alone transform it…or at least so I told myself anyway.  It was not until yesterday, at the mass on the first Sunday of the 2017 Lent season that I was reminded of his comment and got the message he was actually passing across.

It was the moment of silence after the homily and just as our pleas for the lord to hear our collective prayers were being rendered up to God, there was a resounding “THUMP!”

A parishioner had fallen over the pew in front of him and remained hunched over in the sudden slump that sent all eyes in church away from the altar onto the scene unfolding before us.

10 seconds from “THUMP!” and it felt like 10mins had passed as the initial shock of seeing what happened gave way to horror.  The reality that I could be witnessing a real life crossover momentarily arrested my faculties.  Time seemed to stand still as I went into panic mode.

“Is he here with anyone?”

“Is he taking any medication?”

“Did he eat anything this morning?”

“That could’ve been anyone of us here.”

“What if that just happened to mum?”

“What would I do?”

“Would that change anything?”


“Is he going to be okay?”

“Am I going to be okay with seeing this go down?”

As I stood there watching, I tried to focus my thoughts on the insights I gained during the homily and slowly started to regain my composure as that salty saliva lined my membranes and my eyes welled up. More questions;

“Why am I about to cry now?”

“Is this my problem?”

“Why am I carrying this on my head?”

“Does this make me evil for thinking these selfish things in God’s very own house?”

“Lord please forgive me.”

It was then that the real delirium set in as I began looking for comfort in what I could see, the situation.

“Calm down,” I told myself, “his wife’s got him,” as I watched the older lady beside him that I had just appointed his wife, give him a nudge while the lady who was to the far right of the pew he was slumped over now cradled the back of his head and pushed him up in an attempt to lift him back to an upright position.

60 seconds and three other people were at the scene now trying to lay him flat on the ground. I was telling myself,

“Surely, one of them is a medic.”

“I should make a photo to document this.”

“But he needs some air.”

“Seconds count.”

“Someone please call 911!”

As that crossed my mind, I began to pull out my phone when I heard one of the first responder ladies on a 911 call.

“Phew!” I sighed as I put my phone away.

Just then, the priest made an announcement reassuring us that help was on the way and asking us to take a moment to disconnect ourselves from the distraction, sit in silence and regain focus by reflecting on the word of God while the situation was being handled.

A moment of clarity — “Our help comes from the Lord.”

I’d been so fixated on the guy who fell and working out the right reaction and response to his fall in my mind that I had almost missed out on the opportunity to help or acknowledge the help that was being rendered in real time. In other words, if I’d focused on the perfect response to the problem long enough, I would have completely missed the help that was available and or coming.  

So then the priest’s announcement was timely and the perfect setup for regaining focus:

  1. Disconnect from the situation (help yourself take ownership of your purpose)
  2. Drown out the noise and be still
  3. Reflect on divine communication
  4. Trust the Master to handle the situation

This brought me full circle.

Because the incident reminded me of my mortality and perhaps how we are all a lot closer to it on any given day than we care to acknowledge, I panicked.  In my panic, I defaulted to my comfort zone so that when there was a small crowd gathered around the parishioner who fell, I instinctually thought about making a photo to document the incident.  I figured that if I had to narrate the story a photo would do it better justice seeing as that’s what I’m good at – it’s what I do!  But why would I have had to narrate the story? Shouldn’t I just have been helping with the situation instead? In that moment, I had to assess my motivation for action or lack thereof and the potential impact of my decisions.  Had I chosen to document the incident using photos over words because I wanted to prove something to the world about who I am and what I can do?

As I processed this thought, the teachings of the day really sank in – I shouldn’t get caught up in doing things just because I can and am good at it, but rather, I should focus on doing things because they are in my purpose and fulfill my mission on earth. This mirrored the very lessons from the teaching on Jesus’ temptations. In the first temptation the weakness tested was hunger, in the second it was a scripture backed assault on Jesus’ identity testing the human desire for validation and in the third, it was a test of faith requiring Him to overlook what was laid before His eyes and focus on the intangible but greater glory to come from fulfilling the mission.

The devil, who is not a flaming red two-horned beast with a long tail and pitchfork, is rather any agent that preys on the weaknesses within us to ensure that we can be lured away to deviant action.  In the Garden of Eden, the devil used the serpent, a “subtle” creature as an agent. It used the power of suggestion to change Adam & Eve’s perceptions of their strengths and ultimately distract humanity from their designed purpose.  This weakness for acquiring knowledge exhibited still required the input of the Holy One to be effective, literally defining our humanity.

“So I need to get over my desire to prove who I am to others in order to stay in my purpose and head towards completing the divine mission.

Furthermore, invoking strength rooted in who I am, invariably exposes my humanity and reveals my weaknesses but invoking the breadth of life and drawing strength from the Holy Spirit, I can remain aligned with the divine mission and be a truly living soul.”

It was in that moment, I knew I had to give up photography for lent! Yes, I decided to give up my desire to show the world who I am and just stay in my purpose instead.  After all, I can still tell the stories of the photos using a 1000+ words to capture what each photo represents.  And this, my friends, is the story of how I’ve ended up at this 1500+ word narrative here on how I discovered what could be blind spots to purposeful living and finally understood how collaborations could be slowing me down.

Finally, I had to ask myself, “what more besides prayer I could have practically offered to impact the situation beyond what was already in other responders’ control?” After much deliberation, I decided that I could have done NOTHING more. I had done my best giving all the help I could offer considering I am neither a medical nor emergency expert. I had made the wise decision to leave it in the hands of the masters.

And it was then that the words of my friend the photographer hit me again.  Though I didn’t recognize it at the time, he was right. His comment was intended to make me weigh the value of my individual contribution against that of the group.  His argument was that I was already bringing so much to the table concerning my photography mission that the value added from collaborating with others and being part of a group would be marginal at best and detractive at worst.  In other words he was not convinced that working with anyone else at that stage could bring any new or significant value but was rather concerned that they could turn around and present nuisance value instead—heck just getting the group formed right could prove challenging and waste valuable time.

Whoa! It took a near death experience to accept that there will be checkpoints on my current journey that require I make all decisions and take all action alone. So to be clear, if you say “let’s collabo…” and I answer, “NOT TODAY!” don’t take it personal, I’m just living out my purpose and at a checkpoint that requires no distraction.

Thankfully, the parishioner regained consciousness before the communion began and was able to walk with little assistance to the ambulance where there was professional care waiting to attend to him.


Zemaye Okediji, who holds two degrees (a BA in Economics & a BSC in Psychology from the university of Maryland College Park,USA ) is a national art competition award winning fine artist and the creative director of Exwhyzee Limited,a digital visual communications outfit based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is also an avid beach, dance and food lover. 


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2 Responses

  1. adesuwa onyenokwe says:

    deep… and true. May we all take a leaf out of this tree of truth.

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