There are people who have had significant positive influence on our lives. Sometimes, these people may not even know it. One such person is my good friend Graham. I met him in the late 90s during his first mission trip to Kenya. A towering figure at well over six feet tall, Graham is perhaps one of the greatest speakers and insightful thinkers that I’ve been privileged to know. We struck up a friendship that was to have tremendous influence on my life over the years. Graham, for example, is the one who prodded me to make my dreams for graduate studies come true. And for about three years, he held me to account on my plans until I enrolled at a business school.
In April 2011, Graham made a speaking tour of Kenya in the company of another good friend, San. Speaking on the subject of “halftime,” they challenged leaders to turn the second half of their lives into a catalyst for purpose, impact and growth. Graham and I agreed that he would return in July that year to conduct a series of leadership development programs in Kenya and Tanzania. It was not to be.
In June, I received an email from Graham’s personal assistant stating that he would not be able to honor the speaking engagements and that he would be writing to me soon to explain why. His email a few days later was a shocker. He informed me that he had been diagnosed to have an aggressive form of lung cancer during a regular visit to a doctor. And that he had only six months to live. I was devastated. It was incomprehensible that my good friend and mentor, a man so full of life, faith, passion, grace and love for God was going to die so young.
I travelled to Perth not long after and stayed there three months, sharing some very special moments with Graham. I still remember one of the last conversations I had with him on the subject of leadership.
“David, you’ve got to build a system that allows people around you to succeed,” he had said.
“What do you mean?” I asked, not wanting to miss anything.
He used three analogies at the same time, something he rarely did.
“Don’t build a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy cages the lion.”
“Build a relay team instead,” he continued.
“People want to succeed, you see. They want to win, not to waste their time around us.”
“Don’t pull them back, let them win,” he paused as he would always do, perhaps to allow the message to sink in.
“Like a wise farmer, set all the conditions necessary for the seed to flourish.”
Two Saturdays ago, I was in long conversations on social media with another dear friend. Three days later, I received news that she had collapsed and died the previous day… less than two days after our banter. Gone? The bubbly, humorous woman with so much zest for God and life? “No! How could it be!” was my reaction, in total consternation.
It is tough losing a close friend to death. The reality of their passing acts as a sad reminder of the meaning and limits of life. Each time a close friend has died, I have sat back and asked myself what they would want me to do with the remainder of my life. Perhaps a more pertinent question though is: what do I want to accomplish with the rest of my life?
Copyright ©2014 David Waweru