Though it’s hard to understand in the moment, the more we observe life, the more we understand that we meet people at the precise moment we are supposed to. There are no accidents, just lessons waiting to be learned in hindsight. Such was the case last evening when I decided to travel to Makeda Restaurant to attend Henok Akalework’s book signing.
Although I left work early to attend the event that started at 5:00 PM, I did not arrive until nearly 6:30 after being stuck in traffic in ways that reminded me of life before Covid. I thought about leaving assuming that I missed the book signing but something told me to order a tea at the bar and wait around. That is when I ran into Tsapatos Belay who was the person who organized the event and invited me through Facebook. She told me that Henok would speak again so I decided to be patient instead of running off to the next thing.
Shortly thereafter, Henok walked up to the stage and read aloud a section of his book titled “Minding the Mind”. The words he spoke hit me like a lightning bolt; the courage to verbalize his struggles and the lessons he learned through depression, substance abuse and dark thoughts that enveloped his mind was riveting. In a community that is very hesitant to open up and share our struggles, Henok stood tall like Sampson and spoke with the wisdom of Solomon in ways that filled the room with awe.
At the same time that Henok was going through his struggles seven years ago, I too was subsumed by hardship and despondence as I was enduring two years of homelessness. What freed me from the chains of ennui was the same thing that liberated Henok from sorrow that few can explain but many understand intimately. He turned to God and allowed healing to happen from within instead of seeking external happiness through the acceptance of others. Those who care about others end up caring too much about what others think of them, redemption arrives when we internalize the wisdom of Jeremiah 17:5-8.
I felt compelled to speak and thank Henok for his bravery to share his story because that is exactly what we need the most. Though we have come far over the past fourteen years in terms of our community’s willingness to speak about depression, anxiety and other forms of mental maladies, the truth is that we have a long way to go. For too many, the excruciating pains people endure as a result of traumas and unacknowledged pains—many of which trace back to childhood—have morphed from taboos to business models. Instead of opening up to share how they overcame, social media has turned the struggles we all go through into opportunities to gain followers and get more clicks.
No so with Henok, his journey led him to authentic healing that involves introspection, humility wrought by the grace of God and sharing testimonies that will help others. When people are struggling through unending sorrows and anxious about tomorrow, what they are looking for are not lectures, sermons and academic definitions. They want to know that they are not alone and that there is a future beyond present circumstances. That is the choice Henok made, instead of preaching, he opened up and shared his journey.
During my darkest moments when I found myself alone in a homeless shelter and unable to see a future beyond poverty and sadness, the people who gave me hope were not “pep talk givers” or those who pretended to have everything figured out but those who spoke with vulnerability about what they overcame and what they are still enduring. This is something that Henok realized during his own healing journey which compelled him to seek within which eventually led him to mend without.
“Physician heal thyself”. These profound words were uttered by Iyesus in Luke 4:23. The world is full of advice-givers and recommenders but the ones who make profound differences are those who take the time to truly heal so that they can become a source of light for others not through talk but through the examples of walking the walk. We must become the change that we want to see in this world; Henok did exactly that by doing the hard work of confronting his past, seeking the grace of God and then sharing his journey so that others who are going through struggles will understand that they too have hope.
Find out more about Henok Akalework’s book and his efforts by visiting his website and subscribing to his YouTube channel. You can also contact Henok to get a copy of his book “Minding the Mind”at [email protected].
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