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