The following piece is a tribute to loved ones we have lost to illness, and so, here's a trigger warning to my readers that, in parts, this may be intense. Should you read through to the end, I'll be ever so grateful, and I thank you in advance for your time and attention.
I knew a soldier once. She was a one man army, and she went to war by herself. Her enemy numbered legions.
The soldier I knew had no other weapon but her faith and her body. Her enemy attacked her from within. They destroyed her body, but they could not shake her faith.
It was a short battle, and in the end, the soldier fell. She was unable to physically withstand the attack. On her deathbed, even as her enemy raged on, she smiled.
The soldier I knew was my friend. I recently paid tribute to her in a poem on HIVE.
The poem I posted was one of two I had written for her. It was supposed to be a booklet of five poems. She died before I could finish.
She was such an angelic soul, my friend, and she had the most beautiful, the most divine voice ever. She sang in a church choir and, oh, the notes she would hit. And you may not believe this, my friends, but she looked just as angelic as she sounded.
I wish I could share a picture of her here, but I don't know that her family would be okay with it, and so, out of respect, I'll simply speak of her in anon terms.
My friend's passing hit us all very hard because she was young, energetic- as they say, full of life. And she was such a pleasant and engaging and uplifting personality, even on her deathbed, that when she transitioned, many hearts were broken, mine among them.
In my article on HIVE which addressed reasons why I am grateful for every blessing today, I spoke about my friend's grace. In a previous article here, I also spoke about my friend and about my last visit with her where I made jokes and she laughed and then when she thought no one was looking, you'd see her eyes go blank and her lips fall, and I wondered in those moments what she thought of. Nevertheless, for all her fears or sadness, my friend never complained, and she strove to put on a brave face and to reassure us all, even in her pain, that she was well.
Death is like the elephant in the room of all our lives, isn't it? It's the one fact of life that none of us like to talk about. We all like to think that we'd be here forever- turning to stone as the people in my country say. The fact is though, tomorrow is assured for none of us at any age. And so it begs the question, how do we live with each other today? And if we are to be called to account for our thoughts, words, and actions- even those that are hidden from the public eye- are we ready to face them and to answer for them?
Time is promised to no one
I first came face to face with death when I was about seven years old. I was in primary school at the time, in one of the junior standards and an infant in my school passed away.
In those days, people sometimes held funeral gatherings and viewings in their homes, and living in a rural community as I did at the time, the practice was quite common. As children, we whispered amongst ourselves about the little girl's passing and when it was breaktime, we snuck out of school and went to the viewing. It wasn't my wisest action and I was plagued with nightmares for years after.
As an adult, I wrote the following poem about that occasion:
I was seven, she was five.
And she was a fairy tale,
Two: Sleeping Beauty in a Snow White box.
I was almost fascinated by her stillness, her flawless repose
except I knew
fairy tales weren't true
And I was distracted by the glue
and by the 13th fairy's iridescent blue wings,
by its persistent flying,
by the adults swatting,
by its narrow escapes and angry buzzing.
I left wondering, what if she wanted to say something
but her lips were glued together?
What if she looked calm on the outside but inside she was screaming,
Who would hear her?
Trapped in a box. A Snow White box. Glued.
And now, when I suffer from sleep paralysis,
that image haunts me-
iridescent blue wings,
the sound of them whirring,
the shoos, the swatting,
all disturbing the sleep of a child who couldn’t speak,
who couldn’t open her mouth to call out for help while she was sleeping.
Live Each Day Like It's Your Last
Growing up my mom always had this saying, live each day like it's your last. And this wasn't an endorsement to live indiscriminately. Instead it was a reminder to live in such a way that you leave a good mark on the world should you be called home.
My friends, sometimes my language is strong, I know, but I hope you read through to the heart of what I'm saying, because when I say that it's important to be grateful to simply live and to feel, and to live with a spirit of thankfulness, if only just for second chances, I mean this. It's not because I am dismissing or negating anything that anyone experiences, far from it. I am also not saying that one should not call out situations that are less than satisfactory. I'm saying that it doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. And I am saying that even in moments when we are calling out situations, even in those moments, even to be able to identify those situations sometimes is a luxury. And the thing is, sometimes those may be the final moments we spend with someone- holding them to account.
I lost my father when I was young. We had a disagreement. I was holding him to account. It was our last conversation. I walked away from my father in the full confidence that we would meet again and speak again and resolve matters. His passing was sudden and jolting. And I would trade the world for an opportunity to push back the hands of time, all the way back, for a few moments where I could hear his laugh, as I feel confident, he too would have wanted to spend more time with his children.
A few years later, I lost my younger brother. He called and asked me to come visit. I promised him that I would knowing that I wouldn't, not when I said I would, because I felt that there was time to connect and to mend fences and to show love. My brother passed suddenly. The hole I carried in my heart grew bigger.
As I grow older, this hole feels like a sinkhole where the edges keep disintegrating and it just yawns bigger and bigger and bigger. And I'd say this, when I was younger, I didn't think of this as much, but as the time ticks on, I recognize that for the most part, we aren't cheated by death, we take life for granted. We assume that our cup flows infinitely, even when we know that's not possible. And even when reality stares us in the face every single time, we'd rather block our ears, close our eyes, and scream.
And so, my friends, I close with the second poem I had written inspired by my friend. I called it The Violin for her musical voice. And as you can see by the ending, we thought we had more time.
Treasure every moment, my friends, even the difficult ones. The way I see it, in life we are served two things: blessings and lessons. We celebrate the blessings, we learn from our lessons, and we give thanks for the chance to be a student in the school of life.
I thank you for your time and attention.
At the back of an old and dusty room, the violin had found a place
Obscure and hidden in the shadows where no one could see her face
Her long and graceful neck, fragile ribs framed by a narrow waist
Hidden at the back of an old, dusty room, she had found her space.
And all around her there were trumpets, drums, tambourines, pianos and pans-
All bright and bold and beautiful instruments, loud in competition
When they were played together they all made such a marvelous din,
No one paid attention to the violin, the bow and her strings
The drums would beat, the pans would ring, the tambourines would shake
And then the piano would step in on her black and white keys and, immediately, the spotlight take
The violin wanted to yell, “This is so unfair. Let me play, I am a choice.”
But in all the commotion made by the drums and pans, no one would have heard her voice
Until one day, the Master came and saw the violin lying on the floor
And, ignoring the flashier instruments, he made his way directly to her
She was fragile and delicate, and her strings were wound tight and dusty
But He hardly seemed to notice the grime that marred her outward beauty
“Perfect!” He exclaimed, and lifting her like gold, He pressed her against his chest
While the other musicians shuffled their feet and looked on unimpressed.
“The violin is just too difficult,” they said. “Why not choose something from the rest?”
“But don’t you see?” The Master smiled. “From difficult you get your best.”
And as the others looked on, He carefully placed the violin under his chin
And gently dragged the brow across the tightly wound steel strings.
Eyes closed, the Master tapped His feet and He started humming,
His fingers moving across her strings
Until soon the most haunting music was floating.
On and on the Master played, body swaying to the tune,
Acutely aware of everyone else who had stopped to listen in that room.
And the violin, oh she sang so beautifully,
Her notes dipping and rising, music at once uplifting and heavenly.
He played so well, the other musicians put down their instruments and sang,
And from that dark and dusty room the most miraculous music rang.
I hope you realise my friend that the violin is you,
Delicate, complicated, and right now in the hands of the Master too.
Your story, your song, your praise continues be an inspiration,
Rest assured my sister, as you surrender all to Him, you are securing your space in heaven.
Find heart in the tune that the Master has chosen to play upon your soul,
And know that he holds you close to his heart more precious than diamonds and gold.
As we, his audience, sit around and marvel at the extent of His power,
Find heart my sister- Rise up and play on, for this is not yet your hour.
May that such beautiful soul reside in peace. Life is very uncertain it can be end any unknown way and moment