No Condition is Permanent
By VALENTINE OBIENYEM:
It may sound incredible, but I actually prayed for the Pope’s speedy death when others prayed for his recovery. None of us is the author of life, but rather than be tormented by sickness at the ripe age of eighty-four, I prayed God to quietly call His servant like a ripe pawpaw being plucked from its tree. I beg theological pundits not to misconstrue this as a support for euthanasia. My prayer was out of genuine love I had for the Pope, as I could not bear to see him being tormented.
In fact, when people were expressing sadness over his death, I understood it on the age long practice of being grief-stricken or pretending to be so over the death of our loved ones. Actually, the news of the Pope’s death ought to have been received with happiness, because the Pope renewed the faith of the entire world in the capacity of man to devote his life completely to doing good. It was a happy death that surely merited what St. Augustine called the “beatific vision.”
The death of the Pope has offered us the opportunity of knowing the working of the Vatican and the Papacy. It is interesting to read about the Conclave and other rituals involved in choosing a new Pope. However, almost every writer omitted what I consider as significant, the fact that a new Pope is shown Michelangelo’s inscription in St. Peter’s, which reads: sic transit gloria mundi – “thus passes away the glory of the world.” However, most of these traditions are now omitted.
Being a member of the College of Cardinals, before his election, the new Pope is presumed to be familiar with the inscription and may have read it many times. The aim of showing it to him anew is to remind him that the Papacy is not the end; that even its glory will one day pass away; so that he is not fixated on the Papacy to the detriment of beatific vision.
If all of us, in our stations, always bear in mind that the glory of this world, which may be demonstrated in wealth, power, education, beauty, accomplishments, etc., will surely pass away, even while we are still alive, it will indeed prompt us to leave quality lives rather than be subsumed in the glory of the world.
Think about the life of one of the greatest soldiers that have lived, Napoleon Bonaparte. A hundred learned historians presented Napoleon as the hero who struggled to give unity and law to Europe, and a hundred learned historians as the ogre who drained the blood of France, to feed an insatiable will to power and war. We cannot join the debate here only to say that upon all his majesty and unparalleled military expertise, Napoleon was captured by the allied forces at the Belgian town of Waterloo and sent to the Island of St. Helena on exile, described as an ideal place for insulating trouble-makers.
In exile, Napoleon who had been an addict of action was limited to caring for the body and ego of a world figure fallen from imperial state and roles to imprisoned helplessness, with all his frailties revealed. The hero, who formerly had longed for time to meet his chosen tasks or carry out his plans, now felt the hours heavy on his hands, and welcomed night as an anodyne of time. Even those nights were not peaceful because bed bugs that know no distinction of human ranks bit him silly. The experiences of Napoleon illustrate to us the transient nature of worldly glory.
Napoleon was not alone; throughout the world we read and hear about people whose Empires crumbled – rather than being the hunter, they became the hunted. We remember Samuel Doe, Mobuto Sesse Seko, Charles Taylor and others.
In Nigeria, we have seen a lot of people who fell from-glory-to-grass as a result of crumbling/crumbled political/social or economic powers. You all know what Chief Adolphus Wabara, Professor Fabian Osuji, Chief Mobolaji Osomo and co., were a few weeks ago and what they are now. Such experience confirms what Napoleon said a long time ago: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is only but a step.”
Again, these explain how soon the glory of the world passes away; sometimes this happen when we least expect. The chief cause of this is allowing the glory of what we do to enter and turn our heads. Look at Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, the glory of the Presidency has surely entered his head. It is only on this supposition that one can explain his quest for a third term.
By far, the event that illustrates beautifully the transient nature of glory is the current travails of the former Inspector-General of Police, Alhaji Tafa Balogun. A few months ago, Balogun was at the head of the police and enjoyed all the glory such exalted positions bring.
Balogun became so powerful that almost everybody trembled before him, like some Generals trembled before Major Hamza Al-Mustapha. It was once said that during electioneering campaigns, he normally sent Commissioners of Police to tell governors that he was hungry. Of course, you and I know that an IG’s ‘hunger’ was not a common hunger that needed food and plenty of water to quench.
Even after elections, the trembling continued. It was alleged that several forces used him to deal with some individuals. What Dr. Chris Ngige allegedly underwent in the hands of Balogun through his proxies is still fresh. Ngige, a governor, was even locked in a toilet, slapped and pulled in his beard by riffraff, though the beard is tempting for such a pull.
One is not supporting the handcuffing of Balogun, but it will be instructive to let him reflect on what indignities others suffered at his command while he complains of being simply handcuffed.
If Balogun had a moment’s reflection on the transient nature of the position he found himself, he would have been more circumspect. Our lifespan in this world is seventy to about the invalid age of 100, but the way some of us behave, you will be tempted to believe that they will live forever.
While those that Balogun, knowingly or unknowingly, injured are now fighting him with subtle pertinacity; those he favoured are responding with indifference. Nobody wants to be associated with Balogun because the glory once bestowed by his position has passed away. Like Balogun, we are reminded that life can toss us up and down at its whims.
No wonder, Heracleitus made the eternity and ubiquity of change the cornerstone of his philosophy. He found nothing static in the universe. Nothing is; everything becomes; no condition persists unaltered, even for the smallest moment. His apophthegm was: panta rei Quden menei – “All thing flows; nothing abides.” Those who are laughing at Balogun should rather be concerned about living a worthy life, as to escape Balogun’s fate.
Obienyem, a lawyer, writes from Abuja.
Culled from THISDAY, Vol. 11, No. 3646 (The Saturday Newspaper, April 16, 2005)