“People say you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Truth is, you knew what you had, you just never thought you’d lose it”. Anon
It’s one of life’s great ironies and one of my biggest bugbears. As we draw near to the end of a challenging year and I pause to reflect on the amazing people in my life, I am also sadly forced to reflect on those who are no longer with me. Recently I lost a friend and colleague very suddenly, Paul Lawrence, and just like when I lost my mum (who I spoke to at 11 am and an hour later, I was being asked about turning off the life support) it reminded me of the importance of legacy and purpose.
My issue is that it seems to take absence for us to value presence.
When Paul died suddenly last week, I was shellshocked that such a force of nature had departed so soon. Like me, Paul was on a mission to inspire and motivate the next generation. I have had the privilege of sitting on boards, panels and meetings with Paul and have witnessed first-hand his real passion for real change-making. There were many topics I didn’t agree with Paul on, but he genuinely did things for the betterment of the community; he was authentic, outspoken and everything he did was from the heart. I had enormous respect for him and never hesitated to affirm it to him, and I’m grateful for that now more than ever.
At this year’s Baton Awards, we honoured Windrush campaigner Paulette Wilson for her incredible fight for justice. Still, for all the work she was recognised for when she was alive, she was wrongfully detained and threatened with deportation. I couldn’t help but think, ‘why wasn’t Paulette nominated last year, when she was still with us?’ Her daughter noted it was one of several posthumous awards her mother had received acknowledging her ‘extraordinary life’. Pauls investment in the community was vast and his impact on changing lives was impressive, and as the tributes have poured out in the days since his sudden death, I have yet again thought ‘why wasn’t Paul celebrated like this in life?’ Yes, he won awards and gained accolades, but as his colleagues spoke in interviews about the ‘collective trauma’ the community has felt since his passing from young people to the police force, teachers, mentors, colleagues, charities and more I wondered why so many people have never heard of him. He was a community hero, but why an unsung one?
I’m trying to reach the ‘forgotten middle’. Our society is full of people who are not wealthy enough to control power, nor poor enough to obtain help. Socially they are forgotten and simply try to get by. I want to teach them that ‘getting by’ is not enough, and certainly not why their Creator put them here. We can all soar like eagles. Paul Lawrence
The people I have lost this year remind me how real our mortality is, and I believe we need to channel more into recognising our heroes whilst they are living. So many of us seem more comfortable expressing love and acknowledgement when someone is no longer with us than they ever did when the person was living.
I feel we often fail to attach to people the value they deserve in life. Yet when those people are gone, their true value is served up in vivid detail as we think back and realize how unique they were and how much their presence added to our lives.
I am more of a goal setter and target maker than a woman who makes New Year’s resolutions, but since everyone is talking about 2021, let’s acknowledge and affirm the people we appreciate before they die, not after.
If you’re talking about someone after they’ve died it’s too late. Anon
I think it makes infinitely more sense to affirm someone who is still alive and able to benefit from, and utilise, our attention and respect than when their time is done.
The past year, even in the world of celebrity deaths, the practice of neglecting the living and revering the dead, became even more apparent to me. Chadwick Boseman went from being quietly appreciated to being globally revered as a Black male icon; directors and colleagues spoke about the strength he showed on set whilst battling the illness that eventually killed him and many of those said they wished they had acknowledged him at the time.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with appreciating someone’s after they are gone. It’s natural to think about how sad it is they have died, and why. It’s also natural to think back our memories of them, moments that are enveloped in the legacy they created. It’s powerful but I believe that our posthumous tribute should never be louder than the clapping and acknowledgement we showed them when they were alive. So many people receive posthumous degrees and OBE’s that struggled to gain recognition in their lifetime.
Especially now in the wake of a pandemic, let’s put more energy into appreciating the people who are still with us and pay tribute to our inspirations while they are here.
Cofounder Tony Harrison described Paul Lawrence as one of our leaders, soldiers, and directors and I agree. We have lost a true champion; a man who cannot be replaced.
So, join me and take a moment to reflect on the people who mean the most in your life, near or far and before that time comes when you have to spend the rest of your life without them or are no longer around to tell them yourself (as my mother always said, tomorrow is not promised), enjoy the value, company, and presence that those people contribute to your life. Pick up the phone and let them know how much they inspire you… today.