Tick Tock … Goes the clock
Date originally written: 25 OCTOBER 2009
I don’t do mornings. I’m not one of those people who have the discipline to get up without prompt at 5:30am and start their day with lots of energy and enthusiasm. I need an alarm system to get me going. Even so, for maximum effectiveness, I have three different alarms set within 10 minutes of each other. Generally, after hitting the snooze button on the first two, by the time the third one kicks in, I have usually worked up enough guilt to get up, clear my head of cobwebs and stumble through my early morning routine. Most days, to my own surprise, I actually manage to get out in time.
Time, this intangible gift from God, is given to every living creature in different measure. Some, like the fabled tortoise, may live beyond 100 years. Others like the honeybee only live for a few weeks or months. With no sense of the brevity of its life, the latter (the worker bee variety) does its work diligently every day, cleaning the hive and collecting nectar for processing. Its tedious existence is further shortened once it releases its sting. Once the sting is discarded, the insect slows down and finds somewhere to die. Its life clock begins a downward spiral. Every day, we draw from our time account but lack the ability to put anything back in.
I’ve always wondered if life would be any different on earth if we all knew the day, month and year we would die. Would we live more fulfilling lives knowing our time here on earth is short? Would we be less selfish and more responsive of the needs around us? Or would we live life on the edge, sticking the middle finger at everyone, striving blindly, seeking only fame, fortune and glory?
These thoughts were recently heightened when news reached me of the death of the mother of a friend from cancer. My friend and her family had been battling this malaise for a number of years. They had received the sad diagnosis a few months ago that their mum only had a limited time to live. I had met this colleague of mine a few weeks earlier at her birthday party and though she put up a solid front, the fear, anxiety and sadness were just visible in her eyes. She is understandably still dealing with the pain.
Knowledge can sometimes be a burden. How does one live with the realisation that a ‘death sentence’ has been passed on someone you love? How do you stand by and watch their life seep away slowly like the grains of sand in an hour glass; knowing that only a miracle could save them from the inevitable? How do you say goodbye? I’ve never faced this situation so I cannot pretend to know how it must feel. I however have met a few others who have had to fight this battle.
Rebecca (we called her Becky) was a tall, African beauty who was full of life. She lived with a boldness that was robbed from her when suddenly, she was diagnosed with cancer. I was friends with her family but didn’t see too much of her in the months leading to her death. I heard that she was deteriorating fast. Her family was full of faith and never stopped praying for healing till she passed away in 1997 at the age of 33. I remember riding in the convoy of mourners to their village where she was laid to rest, my heart weeping for a life cut short in its prime. Buried in a desolate land but not forgotten.
Mrs. A was the wife of our Baptist pastor. I recall that despite her delicate features, she possessed strength of character and a zeal for God that was exemplary. She was a humble woman, serving diligently beside her husband in ministry and raising four lovely children who delighted everyone at church. When the news broke that she had cancer, the church with one voice petitioned heaven for healing. To the world outside, she remained stoic in the face of difficulty, showing no outward signs of illness. One day in 1996, she said goodbye to her family, closed her eyes and quietly passed to the world beyond. Gone too soon but always remembered.
Iwa was the sort of person who brightened your day just by saying hello. There was always a smile playing around her lips. She danced, she sang, she wrote poetry and she loved God. I wasn’t that close to Iwa in her lifetime. Years after she died, I became good friends with Yolanda, her younger sister, and Cleo her widowed husband. Through Yolanda, I got to know more about Iwa, her passion for life and her testimony and how much her loss had left a vacum in the hearts of her family. Iwa died during childbirth on the 27th of November 2001 from complications caused by a previously undetected cancerous tumor. She was never to know or nurture her beautiful daughter, Isabella. Gone too soon but still celebrated in hearts and minds.
Globally, each year, around 10.9 million people are diagnosed with cancer. Cancer Research UK further states that there are 6.7 million deaths from the disease. They also estimate that there are 24.6 million people alive who have received a diagnosis of cancer in the last five years. Statistics are even less accurate in Sub-Saharan Africa where the mortality rate is generally higher and where affordable healthcare less accessible. Cancer is like a suicide bomber. It quietly steals its way into a hitherto safe area and then pulls the trigger. Sometimes you hear the sound of the explosion and you can run, maybe even escape the tragedy. Many others never get a chance and can only stare death in the face, as powerless as a rabbit immobilized by the full glare of an oncoming train. I pause to remember others, like my dear friend Dede, who have very recently a lost loved one to this killer. My heart goes out to them and their families.
Today, I habitually snoozed my first two alarms again and rolled over to enjoy the stolen luxury of an extra half hour of sleep. As I prepared to turn my back on the third one, I was suddenly reminded of those to whom time gave no choice; and those who have to live with the knowledge that their time is limited and that each day is a gift, a blessing and an opportunity. I am humbled by the grace of God and the time I am blessed with. The Psalmist prays, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalms 90:12).