I can’t remember much of my childhood, I can’t go back to it, and it’s frustrating to think that I once had my whole life stretched out in front of me, all of it, without knowing that life passed, was used up, and one had to make the best of it. I remember my mom dying when I was eight. I remember going to live with my father afterward and being shocked by how harshly he treated me (and others). I remember my grandma dying, and my aunt, and my uncle. I remember, vaguely though, days in boarding school, unruly senior students, abusive ones, me growing up to become one of the seniors, and then WAEC and JAMB and Uni, time zipping away. It makes me so sad thinking back to when I was a child and teenager; all that time passed and I didn’t realize I was using up my life, would never be able to go back to those years again.
I first realized this about life when I was 25 and had moved to Lagos for work. I had started thinking about death a lot, about our mortality and the futility of everything, and I remember being so terribly sad for days. I wasn’t really sad because I was going to die. I was sad because it felt like I had squandered my entire life. It’s like having billions of naira and spending it thoughtlessly and only realizing what the billions of naira could have done for you when you get it down to the thousands. But life moved on after that. I continued going to work every day, slaving at it. I resigned after two years and went to study for a masters, during which I was broke. I got to do an internship that wasn’t paying half of what I was earning before I went to do my masters, and therefore stayed broke mostly, and when you’re broke you can hardly think beyond where you are, beyond how to survive the next day. Later, I got another job as a teacher, which I love and enjoy, which I’m thinking a lot about because when you are in a place you are mostly uncomfortable in but you are paid enough to keep the body and soul going and you enjoy what you do, what do you do?
For many years, again, I stopped seeing my life before me. I stopped thinking about death. Until two weeks ago. It came with a force, a violent one. I was watching a video by Sadhguru where someone was asking him how to deal with anxiety and he referenced our mortality and said that if we will all die someday, then why do we worry about all these things? Why don’t we just live our best lives, confident and happy in the truth that this will all pass away? Hearing this shook up something in me, made me tremble with fear and anxiety. I had to pause the video for a moment to catch my breath. When I resumed and let the video play to the end, I found that I’d become relieved in a way. Something had happened to me, a kind of awakening. Since then, every day, every moment, I carry that thought with me: that all of this is nothing, my writing, my life, my fears, my failed relationships, my successes, nothing. It’s frightening to think about it like that, and human beings would rather believe there’s a purpose to life. I don’t. Not anymore. We’re all figments and nothings in time. We come, we go, someone else comes, they go. We don’t know that there’s a purpose to our lives; we can’t know. We can only assume or speculate or believe.
Confronting this reality has helped me in the past few days. I am now more aware, more sensitive about my life, more thoughtful about how my time is spent. I see every day that I wake to as a gift. I live it as my last, with so much energy and passion and intentionality. In the event that I live to eighty or hundred, I will know then that I lived my best life, that I used my time in the best possible way.
P.S. I just finished reading this novel, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and I found that a lot of it dealt with this subject of mortality, of growing old and dying, and how those who are still alive live through all of that. In the last page, Strout writes:
What young people didn’t know, she thought, lying down beside this man, his hand on her shoulder, her arm: oh, what young people did not know. They did not know that lumpy, aged, and wrinkled bodies were as needy as their own young, firm ones, that love was not to be tossed away carelessly, as if it were a tart on a platter with others that got passed around again. No, if love was available, one chose it, or didn’t choose it. And if her platter had been full with the goodness of Henry and she found it burdensome, had flicked it off crumbs at a time, it was because she had not known what one should know: that day after day was unconsciously squandered.