By Muyiwa Adetiba
A joke was made at a senior colleague’s 80th birthday ceremony some years ago by his close friend and contemporary. According to the friend, the celebrant once looked ‘down under’ at his shrivelling organ and said ‘don’t die before me o.
We are going together’. The whole hall laughed. It is an age-long assumption that men fear the death of their ‘performing organ’ more than life itself. Another story, this time on a more sombre note, is that of an aged grandmother who was diagnosed of cancer of the breast. The doctor suggested cutting the affected breast off before the cancer could spread.
The grandmother in her late 80s refused. She came into the world with the breasts she said and must go with them. His son with whom she was staying patiently told his mother ‘mama, you didn’t come into the world with these breasts. They grew as you grew. They were grown for some purposes and those purposes have long been served’.
The message in the two anecdotes is that our organs, desirable or not, are not really under our control because we have very little say in whether they live or die; whether they stay healthy or become infected. As faithful as they are, we can’t say all our organs will be active or will even be with us as we breathe our last.
The other day, I watched as a friend came out of his car. At that moment, he looked every day of his 70 plus years. He was on the phone when he got down so his movements were unconsciously made. But they were the movements of an old man. I smiled. Whoever said age was in the mind should have seen my friend at that moment. He is not alone.
These days, I have passed old friends by without recognising them. It could be the result of their changed, now wizened physique or my own failing sight. The wearing of masks hasn’t made things better – I recently had a conversation at Ikoyi Club without immediately recognising the person I was having the conversation with.
It was the impudent slant of his conversation that made me pause. Behold, he was an old classmate! These days I look at the mirror and find myself staring at a stranger. Is this what people see? I ask myself ruefully. No wonder some people don’t recognise me easily. No wonder I hear ‘daddy often these days and Pa more often than before’. Yet my mind still loves to do the things I have always loved to do. And my body obliges – to a large extent.
Our body is the most faithful of all our possessions. It accommodates our uses and abuses as much as it can. Often, it grows with us except when we refuse to grow or decide to grow too fast mentally or there is a medical condition physically. That is when you hear phrases like ‘having a young mind in an old body’ or ‘an old mind in a young body’.
Long after all worldly acquisitions have moved on to serve or deceive other masters, the body stays on- wrinkled, withered and sometimes unrecognisable -but still loyal. But even the body leaves at some point.
That body we entered when we came into the world; which has been a partner in our life’s journeys and adventures will not follow us when it is time to depart the world. I have read stories of the after-life where people hover over their bodies immediately after dying futilely trying to re-enter. Then in frustration, they float away formless, bodiless.
That is how we will all formlessly float away at the end of this life. Those who have substantial earthly possessions or are not very spiritual, are said to hover around a bit longer than others until they can detach. But detach they must however long it takes.
This short year has been especially brutal for me in terms of death. There was a time it was at a rate of two deaths per week. This is not about people I know alone. It is about people whose numbers I have on my phone – I still find it hard to delete some numbers. It is about secondary school classmates – I lost four in February alone.
It is about people I had exchanged New Year greetings with. These deaths were so unexpected, so close to home, that they made me ponder on the meaning of life and the struggles we go through to acquire the things we acquire. I now look at our politicians with more pity than contempt. Ordinarily, they should be the lucky ones, the privileged ones in the sense that they have the opportunity to positively affect the lives of millions of people and have their names live on after physical death.
Instead, many are mired in primitive acquisitions and mindless battles for exalted positions for which they are ill-suited. Acquisitions that will not go with them and positions that will eventually serve as judgement against them.
Last weekend, a friend and retired Military Officer called from Abuja. He wanted contact with any senior Police Officer in Lagos. I told him my ‘go-to’ guy died last month. In fact I lost two retired Police Commissioners within a week of each other. One of them,a medical doctor, was around when I ruptured my Achilles tendon on the squash court about a decade ago – the ensuing incapacitation indirectly led to my starting this column.
He quickly did first aid and arranged for a tentative appointment with a renowned orthopaedic surgeon. He saved the day. But it was his cap as a Police Officer that I found most useful. He was my first contact for advice or intervention on police matters and he never disappointed. On a personal level, he was a tennis buff and we could call each other in the small hours of the night during an important tennis match knowing we’d both be watching.
He died about a week to the Australian Open – a tournament he would have loved to watch. The other Officer was my squash and chess partner for years. As it turned out, we also shared other things and people, one of whom I didn’t know about until years later. This became a private joke between us.
When he told me last December that he had gotten his ten-year UK Visa, neither of us knew he would never use it. Or that his next travel would be to the world beyond. This is to you Dr Eloka Abuah and Mr Yomi Onashile. Two fine Officers and Gentlemen. I will miss you guys. May your memories continue to be a blessing.
My message to those of us who are still alive is to do as much good to as many people as we possibly can while deriving pleasure in simple things. And to travel light on life’s journey. We are taking nothing with us.