Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story

I’ve often wondered why death is called a final rest.

I was seated in the left row, the last chair right next to the door; in a conference-style U-shaped arrangement at the red cross boardroom. There were about 15 of us and by the look of it, we were all there for likely the same reasons. It was the future we were worried about and these were the investments we saw fit to make, praying they would for certain payoff.

Maybe we didn’t think things through. I was well acquainted with 8 of the participants, and the ones I didn’t know were known to someone else. That’s to say, we were all regulars at these things and maybe should’ve accepted by now that there’s nothing life-altering (or as they say it here, ‘paradigm-shifting’) we’ll ever get out of these forums. We’ve heard the clichés maybe a thousand times─ yet here we all are, again, seated; personally, just being a distraction, and a welcome one for that matter to the girl seated next to me. Still, like everyone else, in search of answers in this very place we checked, countless times.

Our well-spoken facilitator motions his arm to orchestrate a dramatic pause. With his left heel dug into the ground, his index pointed skyward, he commands our attention, meaning the next item on his verbal queues was of utmost importance. The room was enraptured by silence.

A little light slanting through the crevices of the dense red drapes gave the room a fiery ambiance; the full-on air-conditioning giving the stale air a papery taste,  as a cold air cloaked around him. He walked with his strides measured turning to our faces, one after the other, making short bursts of eye contact. Then his lips parted, authoring a carefully measured amount of words, punctuated with two pauses in between.

“What will matter in the end is how you will be remembered. The kind of legacy you’ll leave behind.”

 

I’m the one they send in to take count of casualties after the deed is done. My stomach dropped and I slowly leaned back taking myself out of the picture. Not because of the words; I don’t feel strongly for words, all seemingly empty─ it’s more of the comprehension of which I have reasons to believe over time has been lost in translation.

I scan the faces in the room capturing it’s effect of each and everyone: Hawa, Esha, Nayla, Alya, Barke, Hafswa, Zena, Rajab, Maryam, the shy girl whose name I didn’t get, Tilyan; who felt my staring and stared back, Fatma on my right, and stopped at Salma, seated next to me, to avoid craning my neck─ all seemingly out of breath.

That word legacy makes me shirk every moment it falls into my ear. With time, it’s become similar to being this desperate compulsion to be known by the world rather than seeking to know ourselves.

 

What is a legacy?

It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.

~Hamilton

 

Paul Kalanithi’s ‘When Breathe Becomes Air’ joins ‘The 5.am Club’ when it comes to popular books I didn’t like but everyone thinks are great. There’s something about the fear of Oblivion and the desperate attempt to be remembered that isn’t a draw for me. Call me a small thinker but our lives are no hero’s journey; us being these larger than life figures who go through obstacle after obstacle only to have people singing our praises by the end of it. Truth of the matter is, most of us are going to fade into obscurity. We’ll have our family and our friends and when they’re gone, absolutely no one will remember us. And that is totally okay. It doesn’t make our lives less meaningful.

But then again, isn’t life bundled on this pursuit for relevance? Isn’t everything we do in it an attempt to be loved a little more and be remembered when we’re gone?  Doesn’t that word ‘legacy’ give weight and meaning to our lives by somehow implying that our words; our actions; our lives are infinite and don’t just end with us. Perhaps. But then again don’t we also just throw that word ‘legacy’ at random, as if our birthright. “I’ll have a legacy because I was here. I did exist.

One thing I’ve learnt is that how we’re remembered is totally by accident. There are far greater men whom history has forgotten and that doesn’t take anything away from their contributions.

At the moment, the mention of legacy is an immediate amplification of our own self-importance. Imposing that indeed we are special. We have greatness in our DNA. Which is good, I’m all for positive self-talk. But when our constructs of legacy have you force yourself into the public eye, implying that whatever it is you do, people should be watching. That immediately drags you down to an all-time low; a puppet of the masses and everything you do, theatrics as the people demand it.

I see people putting more emphasis and detail on the container than the contents of it. More effort put in how we’re perceived than on who we actually are. And however how much we hide it, that narcissistic part of us is elevated on the ‘look-at-me-apps.’ Everyone’s a public figure in their own right; a personal brand and have an image to maintain in front of people, parading that word legacy again and again.

Someone once said social media is turning all of us into celebrities and celebrities are the most miserable people. We’re all in search of something where we’re not.

I’ve found that that attempt; that compulsion we feel to be remembered when we’re gone is the root cause of our modern problems.

You have just one life to worry about and if your idea of legacy is living it the best possible way, then okay. It’s freeing to live on your own terms. To live as if no one will be left to remember you cause ultimately, that’s true. I hope people come to realise that and act impulsively, without expectations. Maybe your life isn’t going to be this huge biography to be read you’re gone; this love letter to humanity; an ode to once a great man who walked among us; maybe it was meant to be this personal journal or a tiny obscure memoir to only be read by you. And if by accident someone picks it up and embraces it after you’re put to rest, then good for them. We have no control over what happens after we’re gone.

Eid Mubaarak everyone.

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hamilton, Legacy


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

Comments (4)

  • So true, Hassan, and so eloquently put mashaAllah! In our attempts to ‘leave’ a legacy we have stripped away our lives of much of what would have been authentic and caused so much unnecessary self doubt. baarakaAllah feek! First class as always!

    • 😅I know I shouldn’t be happy about this but boy am I glad there’s someone else who didn’t like it. I also wanted to like it but…I don’t know.

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