THE VANITY OF LIFE AND THE EPHEMERALITY OF POWER (Part 2)
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THE VANITY OF LIFE AND THE EPHEMERALITY OF POWER (Part 2)

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Wednesday, 3RD JULY, 2024

Posted by: Prince Ahmed Hassan (TOHA)

BY: PROF. MIKE A. A. OZEKHOME, SAN, CON , OFR, FCIArb, LL.M, Ph.D, LL.D, D.Litt, D.SC, DA, DHL

INTRODUCTION

In the last two parts of this treatise, we started by taking a look at the meaning of vanity of life and the ephemerality of power taking a leap from historical sketches and nuggets. Later we explored power generally and man’s dominion over it, political power, the abuse of power – noting the ephemerality of life itself. We also posed the question: ‘what is power?’. And then observed that God is the supreme power Who controls men of power, today, we shall continue and conclude with nothing lasts forever. Read on.

NOTHING LASTS FOREVER

Nothing lasts forever, even this life is vanity upon vanity. [Ecclesiastes 1:2 – 8 KJV]. In William Shakespeare’s epic in Macbeth, Macbeth himself tells, “Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” (Act V, Scene V).

But let us not forget the seriousness of this topic; for beneath the veneer of my foregoing satire lies my profound examination of the fleeting nature of power. In a country brimming with sundry potentials, how do we navigate the tumultuous waters of leadership? How do we separate the genuine statesmen from the artificial temporary showmen? And what does it mean for a nation like Nigeria when ephemeral power eventually slips through the hands of those entrusted with its stewardship?

Power to these sit-tight leaders is like opium; it intoxicates; power is an aphrodisiac; an intoxicating liquor. It bemuses. It gives one the delusional ‘Dutch courage’. It can either make or mar the holder. It forces reason to vacate its seat. It is not certain – but – evanescent, fleeting, transitory, volatile and short-lived. 

We must note that the intoxicating liquor of power can be a double-edged sword, corrupting even the noblest of intentions. Abuse of power occurs when public office holders who succumb to their baser instincts, using their positions for personal gain, and turning a blind eye to the needs and aspirations of the people they are meant to serve. Brutus, mulling his fears over Caesar’s rise to power and the stringent calls to crown him, soliloquized: “The abuse of greatness is when it disjoins remorse from power” (Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act II Scene I). He feared that though he had not known Caesar to be unreasonable, power may change him. So, for the common good, Caesar must die. What is therefore easily forgotten is the ‘EPHEMERALITY OF POWER’ and the temporary positions that the wielders hold. Nothing in life is permanent except for the word of God almighty Himself, which endures forever (Peter 1:25). What we ask again, and again is this: Leaders, what do you want to be remembered for when you leave power? For certainly you must leave someday. If not today, surely tomorrow; but certainly, you must.

EPHEMERALITY AND VANITY- ANY CONNECTION?

The connect between ephemerality and vanity is apparent, if not obvious: they are all but mirror-images of each other. What is vain, is at least partly so because it is ephemeral; what is ephemeral, (in the sense in which it is discussed here), is, by definition (at least, according to both the Bible and the Quran) vanity. All of it, including power and life itself. Everything is transient – almost illusory and like a mirage or a vapour: it is here today, and by tomorrow, it is gone. This dovetails neatly into the pomp, pageantry and excessive mourning which (culturally and as individuals) attend the passage or transition (death) of our loved ones. The sheer folly and mindlessness of such banal practices and traditions is best is best captured in this pith by an unknown author:

Burials do not befit the dead. They’re dead and unaware what befits them or not. “Befitting burials” are bragging points for the living. The dead do not care. Love your loved ones while they’re here, make sacrifices for them. Give them gifts. Speak words of affirmation to them. Do acts of service for them. Touch them, hug them, kiss them, and spend time with them. Laugh and smile with them, enjoy them. Don’t save your accolades for the pages of their burial programs. The dead won’t read it. Say what you need to say now, to the ones you love who are alive. Befitting burials are for the living, not the dead. The dead do not know, the dead do not care. Go home and help the living live better!”

UNKNOWN

That is not all. Our literature is replete with innumerable musings on the subject of death and our reaction to it. A few are selected below: (https://www.mariecurie.org.uk/talkabout/articles/nine-famous-death-quotes-i-joyfully-await-the-exit-and-i-hope-never-to-return/281841

“Analysis of death is not for the sake of becoming fearful but to appreciate this precious lifetime.” – Dalai Lama

“I have now decided that my death should be very precious. I really want to use it. I’d like my death to be as interesting as my life has been, and will be.” – David Bowie, Playboy Magazine interview, 1976.

 “It’s part of the privilege of being human that we have our moment when we have to say goodbye.” – Patti Smith.

“The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” – Harriet Beecher Stowe.

“In the midst of death, life persists. In the midst of untruth, truth persists. In the midst of darkness, light persists.” – Mahatma Gandhi.

“Though lovers be lost, love shall not.” – Dylan Thomas.

“In life, we weep at the thought of death. In death, perhaps we weep at the thought of life.” – Marilyn Monroe.

“When you wake up from death, you will find yourself in my arms…” – Richard Brautigan.

“I joyfully await the exit – and I hope never to return” – Frida Kahlo

“I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” – Woody Allen.

“To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.” – J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

“Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” – Anais Nin.

“I’m the one that’s got to die when it’s time for me to die, so let me live my life the way I want to.” – Jimi Hendrix, The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Axis: Bold as Love.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain.

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.” – Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie.

“A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it.” – Oscar Wilde

“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.” – Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent.

“I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.” – Mark Twain.

“I don’t want to die without any scars.” – Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club

“It kills me sometimes, how people die.” – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“Life is for the living. Death is for the dead. Let life be like music. And death, a note unsaid.” – Langston Hughes, The Collected Poems.

“That was the thing. You never got used to it, the idea of someone being gone. Just when you think it’s reconciled, accepted, someone points it out to you, and it just hits you all over again, that shocking.” – Sarah Dessen, The Truth About Forever.

“If you gave someone your heart and they died, did they take it with them? Did you spend the rest of forever with a hole inside you that couldn’t be filled?” – Jodi Picoult, Nineteen Minutes.

“Even death has a heart.” – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

“Don’t feel bad, I’m usually about to die.” – Rick Riordan, The Battle of the Labyrinth.

“When people don’t express themselves, they die one piece at a time.” – Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak

CONCLUSION

The ephemerality of life underscores its vanity. What is the point of it all when it will go up like smoke in next to no time? What shall it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul? Two questions which are opposite sides of the same coin. Suffice it to say that whether you believe in God, are an agnostic or a non-believer, the emptiness of many of our exertions, aspirations and attitudes, or of those connected to us (or even total strangers far removed from us by space and time) are stark reminders of the imperative of re-ordering our priorities and focusing on the things that really matter: substance as opposed to form; self-denial/self discipline as opposed to self-indulgence, conspicuous consumption and excess. None of us is here to live forever and we shall all make our exits sooner or later – perhaps sooner than we imagined. Death is inevitable. It stalks us all like our shadow, sticking to us wherever we go to. What matters is to live purposeful, impactful lives and leave worthy legacies that will inspire others – regardless of any notion of the hereafter and personal accountability to a Supreme Being. God, please, help us. Forgive our many sins. Look upon us with mercy. AMEN. (The end).

THOUGHT FOR THE WEEK

“The vanity of human life is like a river, constantly passing away, and yet constantly coming on.” (Alexander Pope).

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