By Chimdi Maduagwu
Life is a tale … constructed by each person. While some are poetic, parading grand and elegant structures; some come in fine prose, flowing mellifluously; there are also others not too grand and not in any way mellifluous.
Sometimes our stories tell themselves, thus giving us the idea of autopoetics and in other cases we struggle to give shape to our stories or so we think. Whichever way one chooses to look at stories of life, two major factors determine the nature of the stories.
The first is how one lives and presents oneself for others to construct; in other words, one projects his daily living as raw materials for others who contrive the story of one’s life.
The other perspective is that one takes charge and organizes one’s daily living for personal consumption. However, the nature, status or caliber of the individual affects the story.
All stories appear full because they will definitely come to an end, but the temperament of fullness varies. If the story, as Shakespeare would say, for instance, is told by an idiot, it is bound to be full … of sound and fury … signifying nothing. But if the tale comes from a tame mind, it will have a promise of rich and juicy content. Whatever the case may be, any way, there is always a beginning and an end.
Last month, precisely on July 16, 2015, I was at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka to attend the funeral of a young woman whose exit touched very many people. The sad event equally elicited some philosophical reactions from us. She is Princess (Lady, Dr.) Augustina Onyeagu. She was a faculty in the Department of economics of the University and her husband, Prof (Sir) Sidney Onyeagu is of the Department of Statistics in the same university. They were couple lecturers.
There were three successive events, first a valedictory meeting of the Board of The Faculty of Social Sciences, to which the deceased belonged, and then there was an interdenominational commendation service by the entire university community and finally, at her home Egbu, Owerri, there was the funeral service at the Cathedral of All Saints, followed by the interment at her husband’s lodge in Egbu, Owerri. These events brought out some useful lessons of life which I want to share.
Let me begin by going back to the story. While we mourned, I ruminated on the story of that great persona, Princess, (Lady Dr) Augustina. Tina, as we called her led a simple life. When I heard of her death, I was virtually in shock but I recovered from the shock at her funeral ceremonies. The reason being that I was persuaded and convinced that even though her life was short; it was, however fulfilled. I quickly reviewed the elegiac comments that are common place. Some of them are “with gratitude to God for a life well spent…, with a deep sense of loss…, with total submission to God…, etc; then the announcement of death is made, with a sense of regret. I thought of the appropriate phrase for this young lady and I found none. However, I realized that when such supposed unfortunate incidents occur, we look at them in a way that makes them erase all other issues. In a swift reaction, I queried human existence and its unusual abrupt end.
While the Faculty of Social Sciences held a valedictory Board of Studies Session in honour of the dead, great emotions were elicited. One lesson that the living learnt was the incomplete nature of a completed life. Dr. Mrs. Onyeagu fell at what one would refer to as the prime of her life and because of that, all who knew her raised various queries.
I could read some in the faces of her family members, her colleagues, friends and other well wishers. I could hear audible questions, buried in the silent sobs of many. I could read despair in faces. I could feel the excruciating pain of an irreparable loss and I could not help to join in response to all these. While I grumbled, like the Metaphysical poet, George Herbert, I, like him felt an inspiration like dew descend on me and I submitted to God.
The questions we prepared to ask God were turned round to us. Augustina was born a Princess, first citizen in her Uturu communication. Her father was the traditional ruler of the autonomous community. We never questioned why it was so. She grew up strong and healthy, successfully going through primary, secondary and university education until she obtained a B. Sc. Degree in Economics from Abia State University, we did not ask why. She completed the NYSC and got married to the eminent academic Sidney Onyeagu, we did not ask why. She procreated, three great children … beautiful and adorable, we did not ask why. She got a job as a Graduate Assistant at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka to kick off a career in academics; we still did not ask questions.
She proceeded to higher realms of academics and earned a M. Sc. Degree in economics, we did not ask why. She was distinguished in an honour through an investiture of the Ladyship of the Order of the Knight of St. Christopher by the Anglican Communion and we did not ask why. I recall the sound of joy in her husband’s voice when he broke the news that his wife had successfully defended her Ph. D in Economics to me. We all heard this great news, still we submitted to God and did not ask why. I was also to hear the ugly news of her demise from the same source and I was thrown into a state of anguish. The poet John Keats rightly summed it all that “in the very temple of delight, veiled melanchology has her sovereign shrine.”
Then I said to myself, if we savoured all that happened before, should we now ask why? If our ears were gladdened by the previous juicy news, should they not endure the crack in the flow? If there were previous gatherings of merriments, should there not be a gathering, also, to humour the opposite? The Urobo people of Niger Delta believe that no matter how small a god is, it is worshipped with blood and my Igbo people of the forest region believe that no matter how small an oracle is, it must be carried with both hands.
We all gathered to bid farewell to the Princess. I saw, touched and felt pain; yet I witnessed celebration. I was part of the beautiful turmoil; an inestimable crowd. There were the processions in splendid academic regalia, the distinguished Knights of the Order of St. Christopher, various other unclassified regalia of many other groups, different choral groups and the clergy. I saw a celebration. Dr. Mrs. Onyeagu had involuntarily gathered people to a celebration of her Convocation unto Glory.
So I concluded that she accepted an invitation from Heaven for the grand convocation where the ultimate story will be concluded. Yes I say that her life is a story that ended without conclusion and so are all our stories. But there is a day waiting to relay the conclusion and the story will be rendered by the grand narrator in Heaven, Our Lord Jesus Christ. I enjoin everybody to endeavour to be present at the great event where stories of all will be told with their conclusion. Adieu, Princess; adieu Lady; adieu Dr.