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The path of an arrow

By Muyiwa Adetiba

A cruise ship offers its guests (passengers) two main choices. They can either immerse themselves in the many frenetic activities the ship offers or opt for tranquility and solitude. In my first outing, the younger me opted for the former—shows, exhibitions, fattening cuisine followed by gym, and capped, in the late evenings, by jazz clubbing. Now, an older, more reflective me chooses the latter.

I long to see the sunset which can be glorious in the vast expanse of nothingness surrounding it and, if I can rouse myself early enough, the sunrise. Both are awesome in their glorious majesty and purity—a testimony to the power of creation and the Creator.

Then in the late afternoons and early evenings, I usually find a spot where I can enjoy the cool breeze while the huge ship rolls languidly, almost motionlessly, on the often deep blue waters. At times like this, for some inexplicable reason, I think of an Otis Redding song ‘Sitting on the dock of bay and watching the tides roll away.’ It is so beautiful to see hills that have been aged by time and the elements and little islands uninhabited and unsoiled by man. Occasionally, if you are in the right spot, you get to see a school of fish popping up for air. The whole ambience is ethereal, almost surreal and magical, in its beauty.

It was on one of those occasions that I saw another cruise ship come along, all 12 decks of it. I watched fascinated, as each chose its trajectory and the two ships gradually pulled apart without disturbing each other. With little else to do, I watched until the other ship became a tiny mobile dot in the horizon. That was when it occurred to me that the ocean had completely obliterated its passage. It was as if it never existed; or, if it did, never passed that way.

That was when I thought about life, about entrances and exits. How we make so much fuss when we are around only to be completely obliterated at our passage. That was when a verse in the ‘Book of Wisdom’ (the expanded Bible) came into my consciousness.

I will try to paraphrase it because of time and space for the many who are only used to the regular Bible—or no Bible at all. “What profit has the wealth we boasted about brought us? All that has passed away like a shadow or a fleeting rumour.

Like a ship cleaving the sea, leaving no trace of its course nor mark of its keel in the waves; or like a bird flying across the sky, leaving no trace of its flight; it beats the light air with its pinions, forces its way ahead by its speeding wings, but without a sign of its passing; or like an arrow shot at a target, with the displaced air closing in on itself and no one knowing what way it passed. It is the same with us; scarcely born, we have disappeared”.

The truism of the last phrase, ‘scarcely born, we have disappeared’ is all around us. A child of ‘yesterday’ becomes a parent, a grandparent—if he is lucky—and exits the world. All too soon, the spring of life becomes the winter of life. And the passage becomes obliterated, like the path of an arrow.

We spend the intervening period between spring and autumn searching for a meaning to life only to find at winter, that all we have for our troubles are material acquisitions that we can neither take away nor leave behind in the true sense of it. What we truly leave behind is our name and the actions we take to affect our environment for good or ill.

Our founding fathers for example, are not remembered for their education or wealth but for the roles they played in charting independence for us.

Abiola will be remembered more for his principled stand on June 12 than for his famed generosity and wealth. Similarly, Babangida will be remembered more for June 12 than his corrupting influence on the polity and the famed hill top mansion which may not even outlast his children. Gowon will always be the war general who fought to keep Nigeria one. Obasanjo’s large farms and landed properties all over the country will be nothing but a footnote. He will be remembered as the only man to rule Nigeria twice; who had the chance at his second coming to correct the fundamental ills of the country but used those ills to serve his personal end instead.

A Winston Churchill he is certainly not. Awolowo on the other hand used his brief period in governance to emancipate his people educationally and commercially. His place is secured in the history of the Yoruba race. General Ogbemudia was the man who lifted the old Bendel State to a sporting height that was not reached before—or reached after.

If he continues like this, Dangote would be remembered as the man who tried to industrialise his country. That would probably be the difference between him and Adenuga who might at his passing—unless he changes—be likened to a huge ship whose passage leaves no trace in the waters.

A simple test to know if you are touching lives or merely after your personal comfort is to imagine what your driver, nanny, staff and distant relatives would say about you when you have passed on.

It is said that Muslims believe that upon your death, Allah would send four angels to the places you have lived and worked to assess the impact you have made in those places.

And in the bible, Jesus said ‘when I was hungry you gave me no food, naked no raiment, thirsty no drink, homeless you did not open your door.

For as long as you did not do it to the least of my brothers, you did not do it to me.’ We do not have to be in government to serve the country; we do not have to be rich to help our neighbours. We do not have to be intellectually endowed to make a difference in our society.

All we need to do is try to put a smile on someone’s face today and every day and we would be surprised how many smiles we would get in return.

We should not be like an arrow which goes for its goal and irrespective of whether it reaches its target, leaves no trace whatsoever of its passage.


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