Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Death

It's not often that you meet somebody on a Monday and by Friday they're dead. But that is what happened with Jamleck, in Kenya. I hope this post doesn't end up being a downer.

I went to Kenya to train about 30 teachers, and Jamleck was one of them. He stuck out in the crowd. The other teachers teased him because the clothes he wore made it apparent he came from a lower-income area. He also mentioned one day in training that he had "slept out" that night - in the street. In truth, all three teachers who came from a certain school seemed to be employed by the gracious headmaster for their own rehabilitation purposes. One was HIV-positive, another was a little mentally slow, and the third was Jamleck, who had a drinking problem.

He seemed like a really nice guy - he smiled all the time, had a timid expression, and I noticed that he took over mowing the lawn for the gardener for free after one of our eight-hour training sessions. I liked the guy and felt badly that he was teased so often.

He didn't show up for training on Friday. I knew he was dedicated to the training and wouldn't blow it off unless something was seriously wrong. Some laughingly said he got lost on the way to the training. Others claimed he was hungover somewhere. I told them he was probably either in the hospital or dead and we should look for him but nobody took that seriously. I brought up the same concern the next day and the following with the same result. That Monday he was found at the mortuary. He had been murdered across from the street from his residential area.

I felt so badly because there was an unoccupied room open right next to my room at the convent on Thursday night that the organization was paying for. The girl staying there had college graduation on Friday and had checked out Thursday afternoon, but I didn't think to offer the room to him until after training had ended and he'd already left. Maybe if he'd stayed there the disaster could have been avoided - nobody really knew if he'd "slept out" again on Thursday night or why he was hit.

It made me think.

First, I want to do better at defending those who are being teased in a mean-spirited way. Sometimes I just stay out of those things because I don't want to end up being teased too. I need to be more courageous. It is sad that I probably wouldn't even be feeling guilty about staying out of it if he was still alive. It's something I should always do.

Secondly, life is short and death can be totally unexpected. Everybody is going to die at some point including the people I love the most. That thought is terrifying. I just want things to continue as they are forever but that will not happen in this life, and loss will be a part of my life. Now is the time for me to tell people I love them and to show them through service. I don't want to take anyone for granted anymore.

Thirdly, I am mortal. I need more guts. My advice to everyone is the same. Why wait? Take a chance, take a risk. It doesn't matter where you travel, how much you make, what your GMAT score was, whether or not you have a PhD, how many instruments you play, or how many languages you are proficient in. What really matters is how you help and lift others and who you become.

I barely knew the man, but if somebody had told me on Thursday night that Jamleck would be dead by Friday, I would have made a special effort to talk to him and boost him up. To not let people belittle him his last day in this world.

If somebody had told me my mission companion was going to die four months after I went home, I would have written her more often. Instead of having my second email to her in four months be replied to by her sister - "she's dead." Same with Edith, Isaac, David, and other friends that I taught in South Africa.

The thing is, we are usually not forewarned about these things. Every day counts. Become who you want to become, love beyond your fullest capacity to love, tell people you care, show people you care, kick failure to do so in the face.