I made a new hero today.
My mother’s friend. She must have been about 60. Physically not very outstanding – with a small thin frame, dressed in a simple traditional baju kurung and tudung. As humble makcik look as you can get.
And then she opened her mouth. “Come in”, she beamed eagerly, with perfect English. “Let me introduce you to my family…” Her voice was one of authority and confidence – the voice of a woman firmly in charge.
I found out that she had served in the Government for over 35 years, rising to the upper echelons in her profession – and was scheduled to retire at the end of this year. She spoke animatedly about her long service, fond memories over the years with her family & friends, and how wonderfully God has blessed her life. Her strong character and spirit were evident, even though her body looked thin and frail.
I couldn’t believe this amazing woman I was visiting had cancer.
Stage 4 lung cancer, which had recently spread to her brain. We never spoke about it, but this was perhaps the last time I’d ever see her.
What struck me the most was her level of dignity & acceptance. She was at peace – firmly trusting in God. I looked at her and just knew that over the coming weeks and months – when things got difficult, uncomfortable and complicated – she would still be fine. When it was time to go, I envisioned she’d still be just as strong, happy and peaceful.
I’m still in awe of my makcik friend. I thought about how in it’s own way, death could be beautiful; a transition to something else beyond our world. I thought about how one could be as dignified and accepting as my friend. I thought about her strong faith in God. And I realized that she must have lived a meaningful life, that she was proud of.
In Mitch Albom’s bestseller “Tuesdays with Morrie”, the protagonist quips “Everyone knows they’re going to die but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently.”
We all die someday. We just don’t know when.
Even if we got the full 70 years? It’s just 3640 weeks. Or 840 months.
In view of that, I think it helps simplify life a lot. If we all realized how limited our time here was, we’d drop so many unessential things. There’s no reason to waste time in useless pursuits that don’t fulfill you deeply. There’s no reason to collect material items which won’t bring you happiness. There’s no reason to stay in toxic, failed relationships.
And there’s every reason to invest in meaningful people, relationships and experiences.
The grudges and hate that you’ve kept over the years. Those 20-hour work days you spend trying to chase that promotion. That multimillion dollar estate you’ve been fighting your siblings over?
Not really so important anymore.
These past days have seen the passing of some well known figures. They were loved and well known for their contributions to humanity. Most of us will never live and die in such celebrated fashion. We’ll likely live in relative anonymity except in our small circles of influence. When we pass on, it’ll be just our closest friends and relatives who will mourn.
But the amount of good we can do in our small circles is limitless. The love we can pour out to our partners, friends and families is infinite. And the time we spend doing these things become the greatest moments of our lives.
It ends someday soon.
How do you want to live your life today?
*The original version of this article first appeared on Emmagem in December 2013. In tribute to Nelson Mandela and Paul Walker.
**My new hero passed away in mid 2014. I never saw her again after the meeting described above. But that short glimpse of her strength, dignity and courage will always inspire me. RIP Puan A.
Pic Credit: Christine Skulevold on Flickr