In this era of Covid-19, where death is menacingly lurking in the background, it is important to think about how we will be remembered when we are gone.
When we are born our parents more often than not cherish certain expectations about how our lives will turn out and this is reflected mostly in the names we are given. A name such as Kgotso implies the parents of such a new-born hope that their bundle of joy would be a blessing and a bringer of peace.
Sometimes our parents get it completely wrong with names such as Mantwa and Sello which mean the one who instigates war and crying respectively. In many instances, children are given such names to reflect the events that preceded their birth. However, the question is, was it necessary to burden such children with such heavy and ominous names? It must be said that not all children turn out to reflect characteristics reflective of their names but the burden remains.
Much as the subject of death is a difficult one to navigate, it is inevitable that someday, our lives will come to an end and the value of our days on earth will inevitably be measured. Are we going to be remembered as those people who made a positive difference and left this world in better shape to what we found? These questions about the value we add to humanity elicit another question as to what constitutes a life well-lived? Is a long life a reflection of such a life of blessing? To an extent but not entirely, as borne out by the suffering most elderly people endure before they are permanently rescued from their misery when they ultimately die. Martin Luther King Jr answers this question by stating that, “The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life, is what is important.”
In the same vein, Abraham Lincoln had this to say, “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.” It is clear from these observations that the length of one’s days on earth does not determine the impact of their contribution to humanity. One can draw inspiration from the likes of Steve Biko and others who died young but left a lasting impact for humanity to emulate. On the other hand, Robert Mugabe who died at an advanced age ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years and left it in ruins.
What all this means is that a life of accumulation is not as worthwhile as a life of building a positive legacy. The life of Nelson Mandela springs to mind as one who served and sacrificed for his fellow countrymen. There were others such as Mangaliso Sobukwe who also gave their lives to ensure the elimination of racial discrimination in South Africa. They could have looked away and survived in relative comfort yet they chose to fight on the side of the oppressed. In the age where material success is seen as a legitimate pursuit, they chose and will be remembered for their significance.
A life well-lived is not marked by what one has learned but what they have taught and the example they have set for others to emulate. It is not about the number of children one has had but more about one’s character. It is not about fame but about how many will feel a lasting loss at one’s passing. It becomes clear that a life that matters does not entail any self-centredness but motivated entirely by doing good for others and improving their lot.
Such a life does not happen by accident but is a matter of choice. American activist for children’s rights, Marian Edelman Wright avers that “Service is the rent we pay for being. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.” Service to others is therefore what will enhance the quality of our lives and ensure that the lives in our years count. The choice is ours. We can choose to live lives that matter and ensure fond memories in those we impacted.