I No Longer Try To Be Right, I Choose To Be Happy… Ric Elias
Ric Elias was one of the 155 passengers on board US Airways 1549 that crash-landed on Hudson River on January 15, 2009.
Ric’s flight took off from New York to Charlotte, Michigan, USA, when almost immediately it hit a flock of birds and lost both engines. Ric’s seat No. 1D was directly facing the flight attendants. He looked them in the eyes, sensing his fear, one of them replied him that everything is fine, that they had probably hit some birds and that the captain had reversed since they haven’t gone far.
In the next two minutes, the captain did an emergency landing in the nearest river, turned off the engines and said to the passengers, “brace for impact.” Ric no longer needed any explanation from the flight attendants because in their eyes were the message “life is over.”
Gradually water started entering the plane as the passengers counted their last minutes on earth.
In what is today known as the Miracle on The Hudson, Ric and the other 154 passengers onboard flight 1549 survived.
Recounting those minutes he sat waiting for death, waiting for the plane to explode, Ric told three life principles he took away from the experience. And one of them is ‘that he would no longer try to be right, he chose to be happy’.
In a different scenario but presented by the same options, my brother Chinedu and I made our own choice; this time to be free, rather than to be right.
We were walking and leaping in excitement inside the Afor market in Olualla, a border town to our village Obodoukwu when it happened. We were sent to buy Ogiri, a delicate condiment for Olugbu – bitter leaf – soup.
Suddenly, as we walk, an errant motorcyclist driving from an adjacent route sped across us. Immediately Chinedu leapt backwards to dodge the motorcycle but bumped into Emeka the son of the market chief security man.
Emeka is dark and very tall. He has this intimidating frame of a giant and is older us. He was walking towards us from behind, with his cell phone in his hand when Chinedu collided with him. With the impact, his phone fell from his hand crashing on the rocky market ground.
Emeka was angry. He stood staring at us as I picked and cleaned up the phone while Chinedu was telling him sorry. But he didn’t seem to see any of those gestures. He shouted at Chinedu to take the phone from me and go replace the damaged screen immediately. I did see the damaged screen but I thought it was an old issue as there were no particles of it on the floor. I couldn’t voice out this reservation though, not in front of a terrifying figure like Emeke.
Almost everyone in the market knew Emeka except us. His father was the head of the market security and the chief market tax enforcer, we learnt. He was known for his mean demeanour, we heard, and no mercy approach to tax collection. This was probably the singular reason he was selected for the job – to show some wickedness – because he has got no other credentials in attitude or education to merit him such position, Olualla people said. Emeka his son, people narrated, who seemed to have been bred and trained by his father to be the ultimate hangman will frighten and threaten the hell out of market women and beat up youths who wasted time to remit their market levy.
With the stories we got, Emeka has what it takes to deal with us severely if he didn’t want to beat us himself. We didn’t know about all these. But as courtesy demands, we were begging him to pardon us for the damaged screen and take the phone. But he grew even angrier at my brother and threatened to beat him up if he didn’t do as he commanded him.
Chinedu, though not a match for Emeka in any way, has a history of stubbornness. He is short-tempered and can pick on anyone in a quarrel. Our eldest brother almost killed him the day he ate his portion of Sunday rice just because he saw two pieces of meat on it. Characteristics of him he started grumbling. He refused to take the phone from me and raised the claim that what happened was an accident. He told Emeka to his face that he didn’t intentionally bump into him. He was only dodging the randy motorcyclist; the reason he should accept our apologies and take his phone.
At this boldness, Emeka flamed up and gave Chinedu a heavy slap on the cheek. My brother like a mad puppy immediately jumped on him to revenge. At that instant people gathered around us, and the market security men took us straight to their post.
The security men quizzed us where we came from and what we came to do in the market. We told them. They now asked why we left what we came to do and started insulting and fighting Emeka. They took us into the security house and locked both of us inside.
Inside the security house, Chinedu was still very angry. You could still see Emeka’s palm clearly drawn on his cheek. He resolved to take anything rather than to further ask Emeka for pardon or replace his phone screen.
The security men have listened to Emeka’s narrative of what happened. So they narrated our story as that of two very stubborn and disrespectful boys who were sent to the market to buy things but resorted to insulting and fighting elders. They singled out Chinedu as the mad one who surely will be insubordinate to our parents. This was how the story changed against us, and nobody cared to hear our side of the story. And this was the point of our reverse.
The security men have started discussing other matters leaving us inside the cell. Nobody knew us in the market, it is not our village market. I mentally weighed our options and decided to turn repentant and start begging. What we need was to be free, I said to myself.
I started pleading with the men that all they said about us were true. And that we were very sorry and were ready to apologise to Emeka, and use whatever money we have on us to repair his phone.
To make my pleading look very sincere I had to assume Emeka’s narrow perspective at looking at the incident. I had to enter a mental state that puts me in the position of Emeke, bracketing whatever grounds we have to argue that it was an accident. I had to fully and wholly make the resolve to do only those things that will earn us freedom, neglecting completely those facts that meant that we are not guilty.
I knelt inside the security post, holding the Iron burglary and begged the security men who sat outside to please release us to go and apologise to Emeka and repair his phone. As I was doing this Chinedu was looking at me, wondering why I should be doing such, and how come I was telling them we were wrong.
One of the security men looked at us and pitied me. He got up and opened the burglary and told me to go beg Emeke, and that my brother would be inside until Emeka sets us free.
I went straight to where Emeka was and pleaded with him for forgiveness. I told him I understood his anger, we were very wrong, and to make up for our deed we were ready to repair his phone.
I pleaded with him profusely, taking his side and talking about the incident completely from his perspective.
He accepted and gave me the phone to go repair it. I went to Chinedu to collect the money we had. He wanted to resist, but seeing the look on my face he handed the money to me. I told him until we were free we do not need being right, and that we needed to get home first. One of my friends looking at such a scenario will say we were locked in the enemy territory.
Within 30 minutes I was back to the security post. I went straight to where Emeka was and gave him his phone. He looked at it to inspect what I have done. Satisfied, he told me to go, but that my brother can’t go with me because the security men had gone out on duty and he didn’t have the key to the security cell.
I felt betrayed. Emeka still didn’t have the slightest thought into the fact that what happened was an accident, I thought. It wasn’t in anybody’s intention for it to happen, and my brother didn’t willfully bump into him. He has refused to accept, even to himself, that he was simply bullying us. He didn’t notice that I purposefully took his side on the matter to appease his narrow mindedness and set my brother and I free from him and his boys. These thoughts went on in my mind for a while, and almost stir my anger and blew my cover. But again I suppressed the inclination to proof the case as not our fault. I went back into seeing the entire incident from his defective prism.
We were the underdog, I told myself; we were in a market controlled by Emeka and his family; we just have to appease these small gods to win our safety; it wasn’t the right time or place to seek justice; What we need was a peaceful passage from their net, and this is what we have to priorities as against being right or wrong, I concluded.
I followed Emeka to the bar where he was seated and continued my pleading process, indirectly whipping up the emotions of the other men there. Sensing that they will soon start asking questions what happened, he took his phone and called one of the security men to come and release my brother. He ordered me to go wait for the man at the security post.
It took another 50 minutes for the security man to come with the keys. Now it was almost 5 pm. My brother has spent almost the whole day: from 11 am to 5 pm locked inside Olualla village market security post.
When he got released we went back to Emeka thanked him like cowards and left.
What we needed was freedom, and that was the only thing important to us, not to be right, and not ego. We needed to be free and to get home safely. We needed a safe passage from the hangman’s den. We pursued it even to the point of looking weak and being stupid, but we got it.
As Ric Elias made a resolve to no longer try to be right but to be happy, to be right may not be what you need at the moment. What you need may be to be happy or to be free, or even to get free passage into eternal bliss. Do not hold yourself hostage acting strong, or being right or being unforgiving. Search deep inwards, discover what you need and negotiate to get just that. At death, your soul will demand just one thing from you: Peace.