Holding On, Letting Go by Richard Botchwey

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey and I met in Salerno, Italy this past summer when we both attended the 100 Thousand Poets for Change Conference. Poets gathered from all over the world to share ideas, read poetry, and brainstorm how we can be effective agents of social change with our poetry. Richard stood out for many reasons, including his warm and welcoming smile. I immediately felt comfortable talking with Richard and wanted to know him better.  But what made me want to share his voice on my blog is his amazing story of survival and the way he has used his own trials and painful experiences as an orphan to help other orphans.

Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.
Richard Botchwey visiting New Life Orphanage at Nungua Barrier in Accra,Africa.

I asked Richard to write a blog post on the theme of holding on and letting go. Here is his take on that topic.

I think what has really kept me focused and always pressing on is this. When my mother was alive, we had no option but to eat whatever food she cooked. And I mean whatever.

Who are you to say that you don’t like something, especially any food on the table? My mother wouldn’t mind you. Who are you to pretend as though you are allergic to a particular food? You will sleep hungry. She wouldn’t waste her precious time pampering you. As a result, none of us ever went to her crying for toys, a particular type of shoes, or anything kids of our present day are zealous for. We wore whatever clothes she bought. We wore whatever shoes, belts, or underpants—anything she would get us. For shoes and clothes, she always bought twice our size for the reason that we would grow into them.

And we went to church and gatherings always looking like some caricatures. We were so embarrassed by our clothes, we felt like we were covered in blisters. 
No matter the number of holes in our clothes, despite their magnitude, we remained calm. We had to remain calm despite the mimicking and mockery because it was insane to cry.

It was suicidal to bother our mother to get us things she had no money for—like toothbrushes, as if without them we couldn’t grow. Kids in our world today ought to be grateful. We never had toothbrushes. Forget about toothpaste. And we didn’t bother Mom. We used chewing sticks, because she and my father both used them. She knew that whether we had toothbrushes and toothpaste  or not we would grow. For her, our growth was more important than things.

When I look back, although Mom died about 17 years ago, I think I’m still angry. We thought she was being so hard on us. We felt she was denying us the joy children expect from their parents. But no. Mom was doing the right thing even though we saw ourselves as victims of pain and suffering, poverty and hunger. She saw us as victors. Now I realize that she was training us to become responsible adults although we saw her treatment to be very brutal.

When I look at children in our world today, I marvel. When I look at American children, European children, Asian and African children—who are blessed with many things—I expect them to be grateful. I expect them to hold their parents in high esteem for the effort they are making to get their children a life they never had. I say, applause for all the moms and dads. And especially for single mothers. They are treasures.

The other day I was at Accra Mall (a mall in Ghana). I saw a scene between a mother and her child that I had also seen while I was waiting to board my flight in the Istanbul airport last year. A little boy was pestering his mother to get him a toy car.  This wonderful mother didn’t give in. She stayed in the queue. When we finally boarded the plane, the little boy was still crying and sniveling. And I could tell that this elegant looking mother was greatly disturbed, because her son’s tears were attention-grabbing and quite frustrating. When we landed at Heathrow Airport, she rushed into a toyshop and bought her son the car he wanted. I didn’t see this mother to be rich. The little boy was just fortunate. As I was passing by, I saw the price tag and I was thunderstruck. £200 sterling? For a toy car? That’s my yearly rent back home.

I have also seen kids crying out loud for pizza in pizza shops. “Mom, buy me pizza.” I have seen children crying for all kinds of things. “Mom, I need chocolate.” “Dad, I need a new iPhone.” “Mom, I want to go to this-or-that University.” If we had said things like that to my mother, she would have given us a reason to shut up, if not a slap.

Sometimes I wish I were in that little child’s shoes. Anytime I see kids—and even some young people—behaving in that same way, it irks me. Sometimes, this feeling makes me mad. It makes me feel like I was imprisoned in my childhood days. It makes me feel like I missed my lucky days. For me, I see it as if my parents ruined my best days. But no. I have come to realize that Mom did her best for me .

And my best days are still ahead of me. So there is no need for me to blame my mother for whatever she did or didn’t do. Because whatever she did or didn’t do, I have grown, and I am still growing.  This realization has helped me to let go of the pains I suffered, the shame that befell me when I was growing up. This realization has helped me to put my past behind me. I used to get mad at my parents for failing to take us to the cinema, take us abroad, or even take us the mall to shop. But my parents never even heard of a mall.

Now that I am a man, I appreciate the efforts of Mom and Dad. They did not harm me. Instead they helped me. And this is why I cannot hold on to my childhood insecurities. Why hold on to those thoughts and feelings when you can let them go?  My past is behind. Today is mine to enjoy. Stop holding on to your childhood setbacks, pains, insecurities. Cut your attachments. When we hold on to the terrible experiences we had as children, we only ruin our future. We become hurtful adults with no sense of belonging. Today, let go.

Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana
Richard with orphans in Odumasi Krobo, a village in the Eastern Region of Ghana

“The place of great promise at times is the place of great pain as well. What you can do is more important that what you cannot do.”

~Richard Botchwey, The Tale of An Orphan: A Lesson to Learn

Richard Paa Kofi Botchwey is an internationally published Ghanaian writer, a poet, and a social entrepreneur. His first book, The Tale of an Orphan a Lesson to Learn, was officially published in the United States on April 1st, 2012, by E-Magazine Publishing.  He has appeared on the Pauline Long Show (SKY TV UK) and Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) in United Kingdom as well as several television and radio shows in Ghana. Through his non-profit organization, Orphan Trust Movement,  Richard has helped many young people across Ghana with his amazing life story. He is currently working on several charitable projects and writing his next book, If I Were an American.

To learn more about Richard Botchwey and his work, please visit his website at http://richardbotchwey.com.

Holding on and Letting Go: A Year in the Life of a Book

“Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?”
~”Seasons of Love”, from Rent

Ann with the first book I unpacked

“I love the song “Seasons of Love,” and I remember humming along with it  well before I ever saw Rent.  The opening lines came back to me when I began to think about how to measure my first year with a published book. Was it really only a year ago that I had my opening reading on a cold February night at Zu Coffee in Annapolis? Cliff Lynn and Rocky Jones emceed the evening, with Cliff introducing the readers and Rocky providing music with his bongos. So many of my friends came to cheer me on, and I have special thanks to each of them. To Grace Cavalieri for her unfailing support and belief in my work, to Laura Shovan for her keen insight and good ear, and to Debby Kevin for her help with marketing and promotion.  My children were there at the first reading–Brian took care of video taping the reading and Christella sold the books for me so that I could talk to people while I signed copies for them.  The evening was magical, and I was humbled to have so many folks attend my first reading and buy my book, The Altar of Innocence.

I think that I could perhaps measure the year in friends–old friends who have celebrated with me and new friends that I’ve met while doing my readings in Baltimore, Annapolis, and DC.  To begin the list, I want to thank three good friends who are part of the meditation group that has become such a valuable part of my life.

Jane Nitsch and her husband, Gerry Cohee, have been steadfast in their support and love.  Jane and Gerry invited me to read my poems as I was shaping them and they offered both critique and support in a safe atmosphere. Additionally, they hosted my book party last May, graciously opening their home to many other friends who attended  my reading party. Thank you, Jane and Gerry.

Renee Rogers is another friend from the mediation group. Her special contribution came in the form of beautiful bookmarks that she designed and produced as party favors for all of the guests. The bookmarks are elegant and graceful, and now I give them  as a special treat included with every book I sell. Thank you, Renee.

Barbara Morrison invited me to read with her and to design a program  exploring memoir using our poetry. The program is called “Looking Back to Move Forward,” and we explore the themes of innocence, secrets, and burdens that emerge in both of our books. Barbara’s book, Terrarium, looks at her life through the lens of place. She does an amazing job of capturing both the joy and the sorrow of childhood as she leads readers to her favorite childhood haunts in Roland Park. Thank you, Barbara.

I want to thank all of the wonderful people who have come to my readings and shared their stories with me. It is deeply humbling to write a book that delves into difficult personal and family issues–alcoholism, depression, and verbal abuse–and to find that my stories touch my readers’ lives and create a bridge of experience that we can share. No writer could ever ask for more.

Here’s a shout-out to all of my guest-bloggers who have so faithfully contributed their talents and stories, helping to expand my readers’ horizons with their fresh perspectives. Here’s to Patricia Van Amburg for her thoughtful guidance as my critique partner and for the many hours she has worked with me to refine my poetry. Here’s to Peter Brunn of New Day Campaign, who invited me to be part of his work of using the arts to end the stigma around mental illness and addiction.

Christella and Brian, Christmas Eve in Hamden
Christella and Brian, Christmas Eve in Hampden

And lastly, here’s to my wonderful children, Brian and Christella Potts. They have always believed in my work and encouraged me to write poetry when no one else thought I could. Most importantly, Brian and Christella encouraged me to resist the urge to censor my story. I am so grateful for the advice that they both offered: “Mom, no one can tell you how to make your art.”  Thank you, Brian and Christella.

How do I measure my past year?

In friendships, and laughter, and fearless abandon. It was all about love.

Enjoy the music!

Holding On, Letting Go

I will be having a series of guest bloggers in the next few months who will be offering different takes on the idea of holding on and letting go. I chose this theme because I realize we are in an almost constant flow of holding on to things and people in our lives and then heeding the call to let go. Jobs. Children. Homes. Marriages. Dreams. Careers. Spouses. Health. I’m sure you can add to this list with some ideas of your own.

Several years ago when I started my expressive arts consulting business, The Possibility Project, I designed and offered a program for women in transition. Thinking that people with very specific issues would benefit from the program, I focused on the places familiar to most people: divorce, death of a spouse, empty nest, and changing careers. The group met for several weeks and we did a series of expressive arts activities using collage, journaling, and poetry to work through various issues and blocks the women were experiencing.

And the more I experience life, the more I see people constantly engaged in the challenges of holding on and letting go. During a dark time in my own life, I used to see myself as clinging to a branch that was hanging over a rushing river. My hands gripped the branch, my feet were floating out in front of me and it took all of my strength to hold on. When I finally let go, I floated in the sparkling cool river, buoyed along by the current. I relaxed and let go into the flow.

And now whenever I am faced with challenges that ask me to let go, I close my eyes and see myself clinging desperately to that branch and then relaxing in the water. I realize that so much of the stress comes from wanting to control the outcome instead of trusting the wisdom inside, the wisdom of life’s current. I need to keep this in mind as my son talks about moving to Thailand and buying a one-way ticket. Much as I want to hold him here, I also realize he needs to follow his own current.


Stafford’s poem “You Reading This, Be Ready” has some inspiring words for us to consider as we face transitions and are called to hold on or let go. I hope they provide some comfort as you face your won challenges.

“When you turn around, starting here, lift this
new glimpse that you found; carry into evening
all that you want from this day. This interval you spent
reading or hearing this, keep it for life—

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?”