Live and let die
In the Pink of Health

Live and let die

Do you have certain memories that stand out, ready to be replayed once summoned for an instant recall, complete with what you were wearing and where it happened? One of mine is of a 12-year-old niece and a conversation we had on how she envisioned her future. This little girl had just lost her mother, a first cousin, to colon cancer.

To keep sad thoughts from ruling our day, we had skimmed through different subjects that eventually ended with a discussion on how one gets to decide on a possible career path. This was a welcome reprieve for two reasons: One, there was personal experience to draw from, and two, it was less likely to be inflammatory in nature.

She started off by asking how I was able to find my ultimate direction in life. Momentarily caught off balance, all I could share was that I was fortunate to have known what I wanted early on, which was to be a doctor, and that knowledge was enough to keep me focused. This reply was met with silence which stretched long enough to make me uneasy. To fill the dead space, I rushed in to tell her that it was a little premature to worry as she had enough time to explore, and our only wish was that she would eventually find a job that will make her happy and fulfilled.


That piece of advice was reflective of how little I understood back then. Knowing what you want to be does not come easy for everyone, nor is it enough to give the needed discipline to make you stay on course. Moreover, finding a job that provides both may take time and even be elusive. Since then, we never had the opportunity to have one-on-one conversations, as time and distance prevented such luxuries. Now in her 30s, she is doing what she loves and we are secure in knowing that she has come into her own.


“Die empty.” These words on the front cover of a book by Todd Henry were boldly printed in red and made more attractive as it was set against a bright yellow background. A sibling had shared that it was a good read and more than what she expected. She had picked it up thinking that the content would be centered on giving a better idea of philanthropic pursuits, only to find out otherwise.

According to the author, to die empty meant urgently working toward making sure that we use our time wisely to harness the very best of what is within us and sharing it through the work that we do. In this instance, he defined work as “any value we create that requires us to spend our time, focus, and energy whether in the context of occupation, relationships, or parenting.” He is right when he said that one’s body of work is unique for every individual and “when you’re gone, your work will stand as the single best testament to who you were and what you believed.”

Reading through, I couldn’t help but remember and wish that if I had known these beforehand, that conversation from long ago would have been more meaningful and insightful. Thinking of one person who knew how to die empty, allow me to introduce to you, one who was fully aware.

Chuck Feeney. If you are unaware of who he was and what he has done, allow me to give you a briefer. He was an Irish American entrepreneur and cofounder of Duty Free Shoppers in the 1960s. What set him apart from the other billionaires was his commitment to giving away most of his wealth to philanthropic work while still living and deliberately choosing to be anonymous about it. Upon his death in 2023, he had donated around $8 billion to worthwhile causes of his choice. When asked about the reason behind his motivation, his answer was quite simple, “It’s all about helping people and creating institutions that help people.”

One can argue that Feeney could afford to be generous because he had the means to do so. But let us remind ourselves that all of us are capable of extending help in other forms, and it’s not always about having the money. Every individual is capable of giving if he chooses to be responsible in improving the life of a fellow human being.

“Ubuntu.” Translated, it means “I am, because we are.” Each of us will always be part of a whole and whatever action we choose to take will always impact on another and the community. Learning to constantly look outward should be the goal amidst the tendency to adopting a “me before you” mindset. If you want to understand how to live a life of relevance, make the most of the time you have left by learning how to give of yourself.


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TAGS: Cancer, health, opinion

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