I always enjoy reading the obituary pages in national newspapers. They provide a fascinating glimpse of notable individuals, documenting impressive accomplishments and significant contributions to society, (often leaving me with a sense of inadequacy). However, obituaries are not the full picture. They are designed to honour professional triumphs and often overlook a person’s character or values. Yet, even the most distinguished life will eventually be little more than a footnote in history.
I reflected on this recently when we suffered a succession of deaths in the elderly community. These were people from my childhood, who were once neighbours, but became surrogate relatives, through the common goal of survival. Without exception, they had humble origins and few possessions, but were always willing to share what they had. Men lacking formal qualifications, gratuitously fixed leaking taps and broken boilers, always willing to turn their hand at anything to help another. Women took in each other’s children and fed them as if they were part of the same brood, without expecting recompense. These were ordinary people living unremarkable lives who effortlessly demonstrated the message behind “..the last shall be first and the first last” (Matthew 20:16).
These memories were enshrined in my subconscious and forgotten over time. However, with the announcement of each new passing, the past came back to haunt me. I mourned the loss of a generation, which had touched my life in small and seemingly insignificant ways, yet I could now recall every act of love, generosity and kindness, as if it happened yesterday. Whilst obituaries recognise worldly achievements, such as wealth, prestige and honour, the same doesn’t hold true in God’s kingdom. A person’s status offers no advantage in the celestial realm and God will measure our worth through a very different set of scales.
It’s often only when people pass away that we take the time to reflect on our own life. Death wakes us up and reminds us that our time on earth is limited, so we must make it count. In fact, Islam encourages Muslims to think regularly of their death and to visit graveyards, so they’ll remember that one day they will have to answer to God. That doesn’t mean worldly achievements don’t matter – they do. But family, relationships, charity, and service are more important and require our commitment. Most lives will never warrant a mention in the obituary pages, but God doesn’t ask that of us. He doesn’t need more leading scientists or world acclaimed sopranos. He needs people motivated by love and a determination to make a difference in any way they can.
Someday, someone will mourn your passing. How do you want to be remembered? And more importantly, how will you answer when God asks, “What did you do with your life?” It’s a question, which is increasingly important to me and I reflect on it regularly. That doesn’t mean I live a selfless life, putting myself last. However, I do live more consciously and over time, my priorities have changed. But above all, I make every moment count.