Ovid, the Roman poet, some 2,000 years ago, ended his masterwork “Metamorphoses” with these words: “I shall have mention on men’s lips forever, and, if the prophecies of bards have any truth, through all the ages, shall I live in fame.” His last Latin word was “vivam” – I shall live. He predicted his own immortality.
At the opening night performance of Rigoletto, Verdi predicted that by the next morning “La Donne e Mobile” would be on everyone’s lips throughout Italy and the world and would remain so. He was right. Immortality.
Homer immortalized Helen of Troy 3,000 years ago; without Homer, there is no Helen.
Others were not sure of their place. James Joyce wrote in his notebook “Today, the 16th of June, 1924, 20 years after. Will anybody remember this date?” The date that he was referring to was June 16, 1904, the day of Bloom’s travels through Dublin. Joyce was not sure that anyone would remember his Ulysses.
In truth, none of us are likely to be remembered in 100 years. Because, mostly only poets and composers and artists who can put daggers through the heart are immortal.
Yet, another truth is that what you and Arunma and Jim have done has had an enormous effect on the lives of hundreds of millions of humanity — even on those yet to be born. You have immortality but of a different kind. Less infant mortality; mothers will not die in childbirth; water is cleaner; there is a hope for a better life. Food, light, mobility, education are far more plentiful; hundreds of millions have been vaccinated, tens of millions will be aware of beauty and fairness, less violence, less starvation. Storms will abate. Ten-year-old little girls no longer will be standing knee-deep in the water harvesting rice; they will be in school. Hundreds of millions, because of what you have already done, will sing Verdi’s La Pensiero, a song of hope and freedom. That is immortality. And, not coincidentally, you have shown how development can be financed by savings outside of one’s own borders. You are the mothers and fathers of globalization. That too is immortality.
One day because of you a little girl from Bangladesh, not yet born, will be born. She would not be born were it not for you. Her lands were not washed away by the sea. She did not choke on Methane gas. Thanks to you. One day she will become the President of the World Bank or Secretary General of the United Nations or she will discover a cure for cancer. No, she will not ever have heard your name, but you have given her life. It’s just that your name will not be attached. You will have a different kind of immortality. VIVAM.
You have been a leader, Arunma. To paraphrase only slightly the English poet, Byron:
“If we should meet thee
After long years
How should we greet thee
Madame President of Nigeria
With silence and tears?”
Or, perhaps less frivolously, the words of another English poet, Robert Bridges are relevant:
“We will not let thee go.
We hold thee by too many bands.
Thou sayest farewell, and lo!
We have thee by the hands,
And will not let thee go.”