“Your hand can seize today, but not tomorrow; and thoughts of your tomorrow are nothing but desire. Don’t waste this breath, if your heart isn’t crazy, since ‘the rest of your life’ won’t last forever.”
As I stood among former Foundation schoolmates in the graveyard of Christ Church Parish Church a few weeks ago attending the funeral of another former schoolmate, the late Station Sergeant Clifford Sherlock Bridgeman, I could not help but cast my mind back to our school days.
It was at the Christ Church Foundation School some 30 and more years earlier that we had become acquainted with each other. Diverse backgrounds coming together at a place of learning. We spent almost six years together laying a foundation for our future. Some of those relationships continuing way after we left the halls of school while others drifted apart.
The occasion was a solemn one. Our schoolmate had died in tragic circumstances while on duty as a Sergeant in the Royal Barbados Police Force. His funeral brought out the Governor General, the Attorney General, ministers of Government and many grieving relatives, friends and acquaintances.
Despite the solemnity of the occasion and the fact that this was no ordinary funeral, the assembled colleagues, who couldn’t find space in the overflowing pews of the church and took shelter under the trees in the graveyard, used the occasion to reacquaint with each other. The chatter was about past times, who did what, where and when while we were all ‘boys’ at Foundation School.
At first, I thought it odd to be discussing such matters at a funeral but as more school mates joined in, I eventually got into the conversation. We had all grown up. Our years were showing; most, if not all of us, with almost full grey hairs on our heads. And those without greys were either bald or had cleanly shaven them all off. At a time in our life that we all are approaching that big number of 50 years.
Our friend, Bridgeman, didn’t make his 50. Several others, we reminded ourselves, didn’t make 50 either. Such is life that death spares no one. Regardless of age, social standing, economic means or stature, the angel of death can take our breath in the twinkling of an eye. It is harder for those left behind when that life is a young one. But all death leaves sorrow and grief for someone or many.
As teenagers running around the same pasture at the same school, on which several of us parked our cars to attend the funeral that day, we could never imagine having to return for such an occasion. Who in the prime of their youth spends time thinking of death? We were at that stage in life when the world was there for us to conquer, when dreams were huge and hope was bright.
Station Sergeant Bridgeman chose a career in the Police Force, spent 27 years of his life fighting crime and earned a reputation of upholding the law. His life was taken while at his job and his passing grieved many. His funeral was attended by the highest person in the land. Who would have thought of such things happening while still young men at school? So while we grieved that day, it was not hard to understand why a group of assembled schoolmates in a graveyard would choose to also reflect and remind themselves of the past days while at school together.
We talked about teachers, peers and eventful occasions. Some events we forgot and were reminded of. Memories abounded. We asked for persons we hadn’t seen. Was it a fitting way to say goodbye? Some may disagree and honestly, at first I thought it wasn’t, but I found eventually that it was probably the best way to reflect on all that took place and deal with it. We perhaps don’t speak or ponder enough on death and we perhaps don’t ponder enough on life either.
Both life and death are realities that we face. Our scriptures reminds us that they are both a creation by the Creator. Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have concepts of life, death and life after death. Other faiths believe in reincarnation while others believe in nothing after death . . .
we live, we die and that is it.
The few lines quoted at the beginning of this article are from the Quatrains of the famous Persian poet Omar Khayyam. It reminds the reader that what matters is what we do today and that what we think for tomorrow is mere desire. Making full use of our life before death comes to us. Don’t waste your breath and don’t waste your time. And don’t think that you have “the rest of your life” to make it happen as the “rest of your life” won’t last forever.
In other words, there is no guarantee how long someone will live. Human beings generally think about death when someone dies and ponder even more when it involves someone really close. My faith reminds me to think frequently about death. It is like a shadow hovering. If I do that, then I live life to the best of my ability.
It is the Abrahamic faiths that teach us that this life is temporary and the eternal life is after death. We live our life in this world for that eternal life in the hereafter. That concept is dismissed by some in our world on the assumption that this life is the only life. I guess each and every one of us will know with certainty once we breathe our last breath. In the meantime, we live our life ensuring we do good to ourselves, our family, our society and our country.
Making our life count and having a positive impact on those around us is a goal achievable by each and every one. It doesn’t require any special skill or ability. My son turns 18 today and it is a lesson I have instilled in my children from very young. Do good to others and others will do good to you! It is a maxim that will sustain you through the good times and the hard times.
Live by it and you will be the better for it even at the time of death.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)