I typed “live today” into the search engine, and immediately, 5 prompts popped up. “live today as though it is your last”, “live today as if it is your last day”, “I will live today as if it is my last”, “live today as if there is no tomorrow”, “live as though today is your last day”. Try, and see it for yourself. The second last entry took me to www.scrapbook.com. Apparently, it is a site which peddles quotes. I was welcomed by “Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today, Love like there is no tomorrow, Dance like no one is watching”. Sounds sensible enough, you would think.
Enough about living and how we should do it. What about dying? There is something curious about death. In popular expression, it is something you actually do, expressed in a verb. So-and-So died: that is a positive statement attributing physiological collapse to the decedent’s deed. S/he died. Like you wake up early, polish your shoes, brush your teeth, and die. Yet the only time we actually die as a positive proposition is in the case of suicide, which is forbidden by and large. Otherwise, we stop doing things. We stop breathing, our hearts stop beating and so forth. We don’t die. We stop living. It is a negative proposition in actual sense. But we die anyway. The central idea in living and dying is life. Death is nothing. Death is a non-event. It is the sum total of un-happenings, failures and stoppages. When and how should we die?
Todd Henry expects us to Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day. This book, according to amazon.com is a tool for people who aren’t willing to put off their most important work for another day. When Dr. Myles Munro was in this country, he spoke at length about dying empty. In a persuasive and passionate pitch, Munro expressed the desperate urgency and pressure that inspired, creative, passionate people are under to maximize every moment. When later he died in a plane crash, Kenyan media was awash with theories about premonitions and a death-wish.
People have put together bucket lists: things to do before one finally kicks the bucket. Whether we like it or not, past adolescence, our feelings of invincibility and immortality wane, and we begin to plan our lives around death. Insure ourselves, write detailed wills plan the kids’ education, visit places, live fuller, richer lives according to our means and understanding. The certainty of death creates an urgency to really live every passing year. I have always thought that ‘If Tomorrow Never Comes” is the best pitch for life insurance every put together. It’s popularity lies in the fact that the lyrics juxtapose things that concern us most: death and love.
We are a society that lives in mortal dread of death. That’s ironic in the extreme. No way to live. We don’t march to our lawyers’ offices to write wills: our courts’ Probate Divisions are infernally clogged with complicated, acrimonious, wasteful and tragic litigations arising out of intestate succession. Intestate means that the deceased did not express himself in any plausible testamentary fashion, and the Public Trustee and Probate and Family are left to do the best they can under heartbreaking circumstances. We are desperately superstitious about death. We do not talk about our own deaths. We cannot talk about others’ deaths because when they inevitably occur, we will be ostracized as witches and murderers. We wallow in a trance, as though hypnotized by the fear of death. Anyone who speaks of it is either asking for it, or wishing it on others.
Shamanic Swamp of Superstition
In 2015, our moral thought is deeply immersed in the shamanic swamp of pre-colonial superstition. We may inhabit the greenest of leafy suburbs, wield formidable academic certificates, drive the beastliest, sleekest motoring state of the art and speak the poshest European languages. But let a black cat cross our path in the morning, and we will be sweating, nervous wretches, going crazy out of anxiety over’ Nux’, or whatever they call it. Harvard and its Veritas is nothing compared to a black domestic cat. Ponder that.
We are also empty moralists. We need our righteousness to be externally validated. It is not enough for us to be upstanding, decent people. Society must reward us for it. The reward can come in either of two ways: our prosperity and general advance from strength to strength. In the alternative, the punishment of the unrighteous, our putative mortal enemies, will suffice. There is no satisfaction in handing in our homework if those who don’t are not smitten by heavenly rage. Our piety is zero-sum. That is why we love the passages where Jehova went on a rampage, smiting Philistines and Amorites and Jebusites and Amalekites and other righteousness defaulters.
Sitting in Judgement
Those amongst us who have managed themselves into being satisfied with a limited life often sit in judgment of freer, more impatient, more impulsive, more impudent spirits. In our midst are people who can do much more, and live their lives intensely. These people are misunderstood. They keep irregular hours, dream a lot, take eccentric ideas very seriously and actually solve unique problems. They are outliers. They play their game in the right edge of the bell curve where high performance is the defining characteristic of the few. They are checked by the envy, misunderstanding and shock of the the middle passage, the deep pit of the bell, where the great unwashed find comfort in numbers, and define majority consensus.
“Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter,
Let me die in your arms,
Let me lay down beside you’
Let me always be with you’
Come let me love you,
Come love me again….”
John Denver belted out these words in Annie’s Song, one of the most epic articles of musical poetry, months before he flew his plane and crashed to his death. Many say that he had a premonition, or death wish.
“O Lord you know,
I have no friend like you,
If Heaven’s not my home,
Then Lord what will I do?
The angels beckon me,
From Heaven’s open door,
And I can’t be at home in this world anymore.”
These were the reverberating Jim Reeves’ plangent yearnings in one of his most famous numbers. Like Denver, he had died in a plane crash, obviously sometime after recording it. This didn’t stop the world from speaking about premonitions and a death wish.
“Music is what feeling sounds like” quipped Nana Gichuru on her Instagram, captioning a picture of herself, eyes closed in sensuous transport, one hand holding an earphone next to her temple. It’s a beautiful picture. It’s a wonderful feeling – I mean, you can see the feeling in that picture. On point, as we say. Even her clever play on Georgia Cates is apposite.
Nana is that girl. Her social media is replete with insights, yearnings, loves, peeves and joys. She has energy. She is inspired. She loved to do things. She is always on the move, between different places and different things. She is beautiful, active and busy. There is a sense one gets that she feels all the time that there is too much to do and too little time. Perhaps wondering when she will ever stop, if she will ever stop. There is an intensity and urgency about her that is extraordinary.
“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to skid sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘HOLY CRAP!!!! WHAT A RIIIDE……!’ To lace, red lips and oversized headphones and this amazing ride!” This is another caption to a totally gorgeous Instagram selfie. Nana has actually paraphrased Hunter S Thompson in The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman. Nana somehow had time to read all these wonderful books and retain excerpts almost verbatim. Thompson actually says “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in a broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
There is a picture of Nana in colourful bikini posing in readiness to dive into a pool. According to her caption, she wanted to dive headlong, and needed to steel her nerves for it. Inevitably, her caption picks up Benjamin Mee in We Bought A Zoo: “You know, sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.
I am still impressed by her memory. This is a girl who retains stuff. Nana’s caption reads: “Sometimes all we need is 20 seconds of insane courage, 20 seconds of embarrassing bravery….”
And she thinks she has figured out life, in artisting terms: “Life is a story…..make yours a bestseller! Or read mine….” Summing it all up rather nicely with “In the end, this is all about…..Another sunrise, another better shot at ANYTHING under this beautiful sun!” This was a caption to a truly breathtaking sunrise, taken on holiday. Vacationing and travel seem to bring out the most reflective side of Nana. Perhaps that’s when she reads. Perhaps that’s when she reflects deeply. Most definitely, she is no stranger to ideas. Neither is she afraid of them. She brings them to life through creation and work.
“Hi, I’m an actor, writer, musician, voice artist, young film maker, entrepreneur, travel junkie, maaard thinker and an unconventional human in Nairobi…” is how Nana introduces herself on her Facebook. All those things! And she is all of them. So much to do. So much inspiration. So many ideas. What urgency. She is not an ordinary girl. An unconventional human in Nairobi.
Yesterday, Nana took to the wheel of her splendid ride. It was a two-door BMW 363i convertible, 2014 model. A beautiful ride. She was late to a work-related meeting. Another sunrise, another better shot at whatever she was rushing to do. Accounts vary, but all are plausible. She was swerving to avoid a pedestrian and collided head-on with a truck. A Prado was hurtling right at her, and she had to switch lanes to avoid it, then the truck. It didn’t go well.
Before her family even knew a thing about the tragedy, the Great Unwashed were trolling Nana, dead-shaming her in the most cruel and reprehensible way imaginable. They quoted her Instagram and Facebook captions to support their truly moronic argument that Nana was reckless and had a death wish or a premonition of her death, or both. Then they went farther and argued that she was speeding outrageously. Inductive reasoning from crooks who don’t know what reasoning is. At first, they decided that she was driving at 160kph. This was to accommodate the speeding argument within the bounds of our jalopy driving economy. Once they saw that Nana was in a BMW, they escalated her velocity to 200, then 300.They condemned her posts. They said that her tragedy should be a lesson to the rest of us on how not to live and, perhaps, how not to die as well. Really, profoundly stupid and shameful.
A beautiful young person lost her life in a road tragedy. She was on her way to work. If she hadn’t crashed, she would have been creating wonderful works and earning millions as your calloused thumbs trawled the net, gossiped and trolled. Surely. People with a death wish don’t acquire 3-series BMW convertibles for the purpose. They don’t work out until they have perfect abs. They don’t travel to London and to the Coast to relax and have fun, or work on scripts and roles and practice the hell out of themselves for a performance. They do not rise early to go for meetings.
People with a death wish sit all day surfing the internet, butting into every WhatsApp group and Facebook community and chatrooms with their malodorous and mouldy opinions. They neither have nor seek respectable gainful employment. They are happy to be paid 8k to troll everyone else. They never venture out of their tightly sealed, stifling and smelly cocoons, from which they launch crude fusillades at the talented, the creative, the diligent, the different. Those are the characters with premonitions: of poverty, despair, defeat, death.
To Live, Not To Exist
Nana rejected the cocoon of mediocrity and the comfortable throng of the average. She embraced the lonely, misunderstood world of the gifted and the inspired. She was clear about it. Very clear. This is what the Unconventional Human in Nairobi said: “I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom in me in a magnificient glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live. Not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” She was quoting Jack London.
That is who Nana is: a young genius who knew Jack London. The trolling, judgmental Great Unwashed will ask: what is Jack London, American Whisky? The purpose of man is to live! Not to exist.
This is to all who feel stunned and stupefied by the utter retarded simpleness which greeted Nana’s demise. Those who knew her as well as those who, like me, did not. Nana wasn’t okay; she was a magnificent, fabulous, free, joyful spirit. She didn’t deal with ordinary. She didn’t make peace with the mediocre or average. She was true to herself in a world where few could be true to her. She worked hard. She was talented. She was inspired. Her accident will never consign her into the dreary oblivion of statistics: even now she stands out. Because she lived her life intensely. Because she led the abundant life.
It is only fair that I turn once more to her posts for what she would say at this point.
“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you – Buddha”
We must never say about Nana that she is a young woman who died, because that in untrue. She is the young woman who lived.