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What a life well lived looks like

I lost a much-valued work colleague this week. Please indulge me this Sunday, for I feel her short life has much to teach the rest of us.

How do we extract any meaning from this all-too-brief, seemingly meaningless existence of ours? How do we attach any nobility to life when it seems subject to what look like the forces of randomness?

As I reflect on the passing of someone I worked closely with all these years, I offer the following thoughts. We often stare too hard at the comforting words of scripture and philosophy, and too little at the example of the people before us. We look too often to the knowledgeable, the erudite and the accomplished for life lessons, when often the real lessons are staring us in the face. Real lessons come not from words, but from example.

If we examined ordinary people with more care, we would see many things. We would see that there are still people on this planet who work hard, incredibly hard, without any thought for immediate reward. They work not because it yields compensation, but because work is itself an accomplishment, and great work is a great achievement.

If we kept examining the lives beginning and ending all around us, we would see that some of us can bear even the most awful illnesses with great decorum and dignity. We might see the nobility in people who have no wish to tell the world of their struggles, no wish to be seen as victims, no wish to become the story.

If we keep looking, we might see that there are still honest people amongst us. Those who would not dream of taking a single shilling of their employer’s till that they were not entitled to. In a world where everyone seems all too ready to help themselves to whatever ill-gotten gains come their way, honest people still walk the earth. They are honest not because they have enough, but because they take that which they work for and not a cent more. As a principle.

If we persist in our examination, we would see a small number of people who have not the slightest interest in fame. They do not wish the spotlight to fall on them, nor do they want to be applauded. They do not play for the cameras, and avoid the flashbulbs. They just do what they do, quietly. Not for the adulation of others, but for their own satisfaction.

If we keep going, we might see a precious few people who don’t care about titles. What they are called matters not a jot to them. What status they are accorded is not a concern. What privileges they are awarded are irrelevant. What matters is to do good work, to enrol oneself in a higher ideal, and then to work for that ideal until you are no more.

We don’t see these people, yet they walk amongst us. We don’t see them because we are too busy looking at thieves masquerading as pastors, and criminals masquerading as leaders. We are seduced by those who trade on their bodies and those who sell hate.

And so we miss seeing them, the quiet people who get on with their jobs without complaining, who work to a high standard because they take pride in their own work, and who don’t need anyone to stand up and clap for them.

A life well lived is not one that is full of wealth and fame. It is a life of example. Wealth and fame are like ether. They disappear without trace. A life of setting an example to others, however, is precious and it is for ever. It may be short, but it is full of meaning. It may not be long, but it is big.

So thank you, Janet Chege for being with us. Your example is your legacy, and will outlast you.

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