What Does Really Matter in Life?
What really matters in the measure of a life? A few weeks ago, I attended the funeral of a 95-year old lady.
It was a quiet affair, attended by a few of her family members who are still living in South Africa, and friends who respected and loved her.
Her eulogy told of a full life. In a time when many careers were inaccessible to women, she worked as an accountant and took on a man’s world at some large institutions in Cape Town. She was an artist. She loved to travel. Her inner journeys were guided by a life of deep faith.
It was an accomplished life. But both her eulogists skimmed over most of her adventures and achievements. Instead, they focused on her prayerful wisdom and her knowledge of the family history. Faith and family. A life of relationship. A life of relationship with God and neighbour.
What a blessed life we will have lived, if at our funeral they speak of our relationships.
Accolades, achievements, material gains, good health and the things we build over the course of a lifetime are an important part of who we are and we should be proud of them. Yet, they are all meaningless if our relationships are not in harmony.
When we die, we leave behind all of our successes, all the photographs and mementos of every trip ever made, all the wealth we have accumulated. All our errors of judgement, our mistakes, our passions, our politics, our crusades are forgotten.
What is remembered is how we related to the world around us.
What struck me most at this funeral was how this lady’s great-nephew was touched by her faith. He related how for her, life and faith didn’t exist as separate entities. Life and faith were inextricably intertwined.
The God of Crashing Waves
One time, he said, as they were sitting on the beach watching the waves crashing against the rocks, he commented on their beauty and the grandeur of God’s creation. She responded by saying that God was not only in the crashing waves. The God of crashing waves is the same God living inside each human heart.
This deeply personal relationship with God infused all of her relationships. Her family members noted how nobody knew the family history better than she did.
This has nothing to do with family trees or an amazing ability to remember all of the family stories. It has everything to do with a genuine interest in every person that she met. Relationship.
I met her six years ago as a newcomer to Cape Town. At our first meeting, this beautiful woman asked me about who I was, where I came from, what I did, and what I thought about various things. I was certain that she would forget most of it by the time I left.
We met infrequently, but whenever we did, and to my surprise, she would ask me something that touched on a previous conversation. She remembered.
For me, this was a sign that no matter how brief our meetings were, she took a genuine interest to get to know me. It was important enough for her to remember for the next time we met.
This simple gesture made me feel so loved and appreciated, not for anything I’d done, but for simply being me.
So as we said our last goodbyes, we were saddened by her passing, of course, and by knowing that there would be no more conversations, no more stories, no more history.
Gratitude to be part of a life
But behind all that, there was a deep gratitude that we, in some small way, were a part of this deep and rich life.
Her life and her passing stand as a testimony to what is really important.
In a world of fleeting encounters and a thousand distractions, places to be and things to do, we too often get hung up on the things that don’t really matter in the span of a life.
If I make millions of rand but am poor on the inside, what was it all for? If I am known and praised for my actions but don’t know God who lives inside me, all the accolades are meaningless. If I have travelled the world and met countless people but those who share my life remain as strangers, then I have missed the point.
Yes, dear lady, you lived an incredible life. You leave behind a legacy and a message for us moderns. You remind us to put things into their proper perspective.
What really matters in the measure of a life?
For more columns by Sarah-Leah Pimentel, see www.scross.co.za/category/perspectives/sarah-leah-pimentel/