There was this great leader once whom I was seeking to interview very much. This man inspired me and being young at that time, I had so much to ask him. I managed to set an appointment with him despite his busy schedule and I managed to get him to answer every question except one. That question read thus; “How would you sum your life in one sentence?” To that question, he smiled and said that he would only answer me when the right time comes.
Thirty-years down the road, I had aged and had become a senior editor to the same organisation I had started my career in. One fine evening, I received a call from an unknown number but with a familiar albeit raspy voice. I knew instantly who it was. It was the great leader, the very same who had inspired many others and this time he phoned me for a personal interview with him. Without wasting the opportunity, I scheduled for a session the next day at his residence. I arrived there on the dot as his assistant, a pretty young woman, escorted me to his bedroom. And there he laid on his bed, all weak and no more leader like, with a blanket covering his whole body and he was wearing a sweater. He had aged so much that it was difficult to recognise him but he, unlike me, recognised me instantly.
He smiled and motioned me to come closer. And as I did, he said in his raspy voice, “Do you remember the question you asked me 30-years ago?” I shook my head; I couldn’t. In those 30-years, I had met, spoken, exchanged cards and interviewed almost thousands of people that I could hardly even remember the questions I had asked them. But he did. And so he replied, “Here. I wrote it down.” And from his breast pocket of his sweater, he revealed an old wrinkled piece of paper. And in that paper were the words, “How would you sum your life in one sentence?”
As I stared at the paper, my memory of that tiny incident of my life came back. He smiled, looked around and then back to the piece of paper and said, “I think now is the best time to answer this question.” As he said that, I quickly grabbed a nearby chair, propped open my notepad and held tight to my pen, ready to jot down what he had to say. “Listen closely. I want people to know this.”
And as he said, I wrote, word for word he had to say. When he finally finished, he sighed and made me promise to only publish it when he passes away. I nodded and promised.
Two weeks later, the great man passed on. His body perished but his legacy remained as the country held a funeral service which was attended by atleast a million people from all walks of lives, cramming, craning their necks to see the body of this great leader who had served the country well. The very same day, the papers had headlines of his death plastered on every front page. Well, except for ours, which read; “A Great Man’s Last Words” It was a simple headline, different than others but it sold a million copies that day.
And so here it is, his last words, his answer to my question on how he summed his life, word for word:
“How would I sum my life? You know, I had been thinking of this moment all my life. This very moment of being weak, not being capable of doing anything, sick, old and frail and when you asked me that question 30-years ago when I was healthy, sprightly and all set to go, I realised I was afraid of this moment. I dreaded it. Indeed, the question you had asked was valid and poignant, given the deeds that the public claimed I had done. But, I was just 54 at that time and life was still far ahead. I felt, it was not right for me to sum my life when it had not ended yet. It’s like declaring yourself as a winner even before you reach the finish line. No! That was not what I had in mind. I wanted to finish this race. Win or lose, it’s a different story but I want to finish this race and then share with people how exhilarating and exciting this race is. And here I am, 30-years down the road, telling you what I really think. I think, if I could sum my life in a sentence, it would be; “If you have never fallen, if you never had your heart broken, if you never had experienced being broke, if you had never been hungry or starved, if you have never lost a loved one, if you never had your dream crushed, if you never fell in love, if you never had a child of your own, then you have never lived simply because only when you have had experienced every single emotion that scars, shapes, forms and transforms your body, mind and soul, would you have experienced life and the joy you can derive from it and finally prepare yourself for the final lap, which is death itself.” With all I had experienced, every single pain and suffering and moving and working my way and the country, I can safely say I am no longer afraid of this moment. Rather, all the things I experienced have shaped and made me prepared for death and I pray that I hope to see you all in my next life, to serve each one of you once again, but with even more dedication and passion as compared to this life. And if I don’t take another birth, perhaps, and again I pray, to see each one of you in the after life. Here’s thanking everyone for giving me a chance to serve you all when I had the opportunity to serve as a leader of this great nation and I pray, this nation be continuously wealthy and with happy citizens. I want everyone to understand that as long as you’re happy, there’s always someone who is sad. Happiness and sadness are two sides of a coin. If you’re happy, you must keep in mind that someone is sad out there and so it’s your duty to make that person’s life worthwhile. If every citizen in this country can practice this, we wouldn’t need to invest in moral education anymore. It might seem farfetched but this is my hope and dream, one that I would carry all the way with me when I die. So long my friends. Forgive me for any harm through word, deed and thoughts that I had committed and I pray to see you all again someday.”
I would always remember that moment when he said the last few sentences. He sighed and then slowly looked up at me and smiled. I had a last question this time but for my own personal record. “Why did you sigh?” He chuckled, winced but smiled and replied, “I sighed because I was almost out of breath. Do you have to question everything?”
We both laughed, held hands and funnily, I didn’t shed a tear when he passed on.
As I stared at his coffin which was slowly traveling past the street adjacent to the office, something deep down stirred and told me that I would meet him again. And if we do, I already have prepared more questions to ask him this time around.