Monuments of our existence

11 years ago this week, I drove home from work excitedly, after having scored a major victory and experienced an undeniable hand of God. I got to my flat in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, eager to share the story with Gbenga, my younger brother who was visiting me at the time. I knocked on the door, there was no answer. I knocked several times, still no answer. I panicked and forced the door open, imagining the worst. The worst had happened. I found his body in a seated position. He had departed. The shock is indescribable. The kind that stays with you forever. I had never experienced death so close. I wanted it to be a dream but it was real. I wanted it to be me instead of him but it was him.

That night became a turning point. I still shed tears today, even in public, shamelessly. I have not learnt the composure needed to really talk about it without tears. Even at a Social Venture Network gathering a few years ago in Maine where I was privileged to speak before some of the most impactful entrepreneurs and business leaders today, I teared up in the process of talking about my motivations as an entrepreneur, because I touched on that incident as a key turning point. At SVN, it is okay and that is why I belong. You are expected to be an entrepreneur or business leader with a heart of flesh.

That night, death became a reality and life began to have new meaning because, given the reality of death, life needs to have meaning. I began to ask, “Given that we die, how should we live so that if we happen to die, our lives would have been worthwhile?” Before then I knew that people die, but I didn’t know that people die. I began to devote myself to what truly matters, in the context of death.

The Bible satisfied my search for meaning. I came to the conclusion that love is what matters and is the one thing that transcends death. Love for God and love for every human being that I encounter, is the one thing that will continue to matter, for all eternity. I began to go below the surface so that my actions and relationships whether at home, at play or at work flowed from love for God and love for people.

I am an entrepreneur and will remain one but Gbenga’s sudden departure made me realize the utter emptiness and total insignificance of pursuing business for financial benefits. His departure showed me more than any number of books or stories or sermons could, that human beings die. It forced me and is still forcing me to go deeper in my relationship with God and people. In business, I seek to be engaged in such a way that if my earthly life should end during the transaction, I would be able to answer to the One who made me and whatever I was involved in and how I was involved in it would remain as a worthy monument of my existence, before God and man.

One thing I do not really get is if we acknowledge that love matters at the beginning of life and at the end of life, why do we relegate it to insignificance in between, in business, at work, in day to day existence? I have resolved to make love the core and the monument of my existence. I unashamedly talk about love in business even while addressing a class of MBAs.

Even as a blogger, Gbenga’s departure influences my writing. I go deep, really deep. That said, I am far from serious at all times, in fact, I am extremely happy, full of joy, partly because I am not afraid of death and am still very full of unrealized contributions to existence. My wife Ronké says I can’t die, because I have had many close brushes with it ranging from gunshots to kidnappings to armed robbery attacks to accidents to heart attack, yes, at a young age. I am not afraid of death, I am busy building monuments of my existence on a daily basis. I do it quite playfully too – Ronké would tell you I am extremely playful, quite childlike and all my siblings and my parents will agree. In Tofunmi’s daycare, the kids love me because I am a kid, in their midst. Remembering death therefore does not necessarily make you melancholy, it makes you focus on what matters – love. If my blog helps readers to do the same, then it is worth devoting my time to.

I remember Gbenga today and in addition to the conviction that I will see him again when I cast off this tent I dwell in, I am glad for the grace to build daily, monuments of my existence. In addition to some reminders about death this week, on Lara Daniels’ blog and on The High Calling stumbling on the quote below in my notes this morning prompted this blog post.

“The transitoriness of our existence in no way makes it meaningless. But it does constitute our responsibleness; for everything hinges upon our realizing the essentially transitory possibilities. Man constantly makes his choice concerning the mass of present potentialities; which of these will be condemned to nonbeing and which will be actualized? Which choice will be made an actuality once and forever, an immortal “footprint in the sands of time”? At any moment, man must decide, for better or for worse, what will be the monument of his existence.”
– Victor Frankl

16 thoughts on “Monuments of our existence

  1. Tolú- I am moved and stirred by your words. After experiencing such a loss, that you have converted its meaning in such a manner that honors our Father and all those around you, is truly beautiful. Your words demonstrate how we are to use something otherwise heart-wrenching, into something which prospers and blesses us all: "Remembering death therefore does not necessarily make you melancholy, it makes you focus on what matters – love." Long ago I lost someone I loved to suicide, and I am forever changed by it, but in a manner that draws me closer to love and to God. I can understand what you wrote. I am sorry that you had to experience losing your brother Gbenga. I am certain he is proud for the monument you are building, as is also our Heavenly Father. And how you have set about to transform pain into the only emotion and truth recognizable to God- LOVE.Blessings to you and your family. And may God provide you solace and peace today as you remember Gbenga.- Your sister Ella

  2. "The Bible satisfied my search for meaning. I came to the conclusion that love is what matters and is the one thing that transcends death. Love for God and love for every human being that I encounter, is the one thing that will continue to matter, for all eternity. I began to go below the surface so that my actions and relationships whether at home, at play or at work flowed from love for God and love for people"…Thank you for showing the way. Thank you for this Tolu. You have no idea how much this post means. You will be seeing Gbenga again, by His grace. You'll see him again in that place where there is no more sorrow, no more pain, no more harsh interuptions to life's realities. Because Christ has taken up on himself our eternal deaths that we may have hope of life after this world. Once again, thank you for sharing this. Have a glorious Easter celebration!

  3. Thank you Bunmi. We can truly rejoice today because "Christ has taken up on himself our eternal deaths that we may have hope of life after this world." The good thing is his death also brought life for us in this world. Therefore, we can rejoice, we can celebrate in spite of the reality of death. Because He died and rose again, we can say in this world, "O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory." Death is real but it is powerless in the face of Love, because Love conquered it forever. Death cannot stop us as we step out and respond in love. Thank you for your ever so thoughtful comments.

  4. waoh…this is really deep.I'm sorry about your brother's passing, but I'm really pleased with the lessons it's taught you and how you apply these to your everyday life.Thanks for showing me how love (for God and for others) is that one thing that would truly stand/count when it matters most.God bless you Tolulope.

  5. Thank you for this Tolu. You have reminded me the importance of what life is all about, which is love. God has placed you in this generation for others to hear him. I pray for your family and you. You will live long so that he will fulfill his purpose for you. My greetings to your family.The Grace of God is always sufficient for us.

  6. Thanks for your comments Doyin. I am glad that this story is a blessing to you as it is to me. God bless you for tuning in to what matters most.

  7. Seye, I am honored to have your comments. Thank you for your words. You and Bunmi are a blessing to me. Thank you for your prayers. Amen to them.

  8. Bros mi, I saw this post yesterday on my handheld device , but I didn't respond because it will be hurried and to me this is not the usual post. I may not be abale to fully understand what you went through when Gbenga left this world , but I have a glimpse of it, when things like death happen , we never understand why it happens , i have been in situations when my cousins, aunties die , and am left in a vaacum because I do not understand.Death is one thing that though does not scare me but eludes me most times , that is why I just need to be in Christ Jesus to understand a little. Bros , I know that anywhere Gbenga is now , he is going to be proud of his big bro , because you are passionately affecting lives for God. You make move on in my spiritual walk with Jesus, when I fall , i remember when you said ''if it remains one second for a child of God to fall into a pit , God will rise up and do something''. I am really proud of what God is doing in your life, we all finishing strong no matter what.

  9. Tolu, this is poignant and I can't but tread carefully because having not experienced this myself, I can only but imagine the pain and trauma and how deeply this must have affected you. I really am so sorry for your loss but God turned it around for good. It became a gain such that you said:["…I began to devote myself to what truly matters, in the context of death. The Bible satisfied my search for meaning. I came to the conclusion that LOVE is what matters and is the one thing that transcends death."] and that Gbenga's departure influences your writing.I have learned from what you said that the WORD OF GOD satisfies the meaning of life and LOVE transcends death.This is such a powerful statement, one that truly reflects how 'deeply' you've delved. Through this you're daily letting yourself die and not abiding alone, like the grain of wheat, producing fruit as you keep going deeper.["One thing I do not really get is if we acknowledge that love matters at the beginning of life and at the end of life, why do we relegate it to insignificance in between, in business, at work, in day to day existence?"]This is a question I need to digest myself. I need to go deep and understand.Thank you for sharing this and helping me realize the most important things.

  10. Tolu, this post touched me big time and I have tried to not comment on it but I just cant avoid it any longer.I cant begin to understand what it must have felt like to be the one that discover your brother's body. What a happy joyous day it will be when you get to see him again. I lost my father over 2 decades ago, i love him much more today than ever before. Death cannot hinder our love, it will stand forever more.Gbenga lives on thru you, many of us have come to know of him because of you. Love lives on beyond goodbye,The truth of us will never die.Our spirits will shineLong after we've gone,And so our love lives onAnd so our love lives on.By Unknown

  11. Buky, your silence speaks louder than words. Thank you. I like the way you refer to your Dad as present. I am going to save this beautiful poem because it summarizes this blog post. I love it – love leaves on. It means then that the way to immortality is love. Thank you Buky for continuing to be you. You are an inspiration.

  12. Hey Tolu,I am very sorry for your brother's departure. I am proud of you and what you are doing. I am really happy I found these your blogs and how you continue to share events of life. Thanks for these. There are some many things here … wisdom, ideas, motivations, relationship and many more. May be later you can package them to books. They are very very good – inspirational, soul lifting, encouraging, soul-search and correcting.Regards,Wole

  13. Wole, God bless you for your comments. Thank you for visiting. Your words mean a lot more than you may realize because we go way back to the days of Great Ife. Thank you for finding this blog and for believing in the God in me. Let's keep in touch.

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