As we enter the last month of one of the most unusual years of our lives, I reflected on an important life lesson I had learned from my childhood days. It goes back to the year 1961, when my family lived in a tiny flat in Mombasa. My father had started a new career as a car salesman, and he was just learning the ropes at that time. Resources were very scarce, and my mother managed to stretch every penny of his salary to make it to the last day of each month.
One day when my father got to work, his assistant who had just joined in a junior role, was sitting at the steps of the car showroom, crying. He told my father that his wife was in hospital with a childbirth complication and needed to pay a significant sum of money before the hospital could operate on her. Being the last day of the month, my father gave his full salary to this man, to help him in his critical moment of need. I recall my mother telling me several years later that it was a very tough day for her, because she had no idea how she was going to keep the household going for a month without a penny’s income. She managed with a great deal of difficulty, by being as creative as she could with the cheapest foods and provisions she could muster.
The man’s wife and child survived, and he was deeply grateful to my father, and promised to pay him back as soon as he could. Time passed by and he forgot this promise. My father never raised the issue with him and finally forgot all about it too. The man went on to become one of the wealthiest businessmen in Kenya. In the mid 1970’s, when I was visiting Mombasa for my summer vacation, I recall the episode where this man showed up at our home out of the blues one morning, pleading for forgiveness from my father and begging him to accept repayment of the loan. My father told him that he had forgiven the loan a long time ago and hence, there was no debt owed anymore.
The man was deeply distressed. He related that he had gone to perform the pilgrimage of Hajj in Makkah, the sacred epicenter of the Muslim world. This pilgrimage is similar in concept to pilgrimages undertaken by followers of most major faiths, to sacred places of their beliefs, where they seek to cleanse their past and find inner peace and resolution… Apparently while he was in Makkah, he had a powerful inner intuition, which said that his pilgrimage could not be accepted because he had forgotten a very significant debt, owed to a man who had practically given him everything he had to live on at the time. He left Makkah immediately, came back to Kenya, and tracked down my parents. Repaying this debt right away was absolutely crucial for him. After listening to him, my father accepted the money. As they parted, he gave my father a huge hug and said, God willing, he could now return to complete his pilgrimage the next year, in peace.
My dear friends, most of us go to sacred places in our lives, which offer us the opportunity for true inner introspection. However, I believe the most sacred place resides within each one of us. Hence, as the year comes to a close, it may be an opportune time to reflect on our outstanding debts, whatever they may be, small or large, and make a plan to clear our slate as soon as we can. I have recently lost four good friends to COVID, which prompted me to share my reflections with you all today
Stay happy, prosperous, safe and blessed, always.