April 27, 2019. A very sad for me and my family. My sister called me up around 9:00 AM to inform me that my cousin Pedro Mencía had just passed away.
April 27th. Just ten days from my birthday (April 17th). We both turned 65 old recently.
The news threw me into a deep depression – as Pedro and I had been very close when we lived in Cuba and later growing up in the Washington, DC area. It also got me into a philosophical and contemplative mood – as I wondered about the meaning of life.
Before answering such a momentous question, I’d like to tell you a little bit about Pedro. He left Cuba without his parents, and came to live with my uncle’s family in Washington, DC. He was a fighter who looked adversity right in the eye and kept a positive attitude. He aimed his vision on the future, on how he could be better his lot.
Many of you are familiar with the biblical claim that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” 1 Corinthians 10:13. In Pedro’s case, this saying found validation. He had a bright intellect, and he excelled academically. He graduated from Columbia University, and subsequently, he attended George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences – where he graduated in 1981 as an obstetrician-gynecologist. He married a nurse (Marie) whom he met while working at the George Washington University Hospital, and moved to Pennsylvania. Marie was a wonderful companion who provided him with the peace and quiet that he needed to concentrate on living a productive and honorable life. They started a family soon after, and had three boys.
When I ponder about the size of the planet and the U.S. population being at 328.8M, I realize that each of us represents but an infinitesimal molecule in the world. We live the equivalent of a millisecond in time, and the world carries on as we if never inhabited it.
Are all the hardships that we must endure in our lifetimes worth the effort and the sacrifices?
I must admit that this is one of the most frequently asked questions by all humanity since the beginning of time – as it addresses the existential need to know why we are on the planet. Philosophers, anthropologists, scientists, and religious figures have all delved deeply into this discussion. Considering how many miles I traveled in my life journey, I think that I’m entitled to come up with my own theory.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will address this topic from my own perspective as a Christian. I’ve read many of the treatises that men and women have penned in the past, and I’ve found them all to be deficient in providing an all-encompassing answer. I attribute this flaw to the fact that they’ve looked at the question from a human dimension, rather than from a divine angle.
The first thing that comes to mind is that the here-and-now is not the place to find the meaning and purpose of life. What we look like, what car we drive, what house we live in, how much money we have in the bank, the honorific titles that others have bestowed on us, our political affiliation, our family pedigrees, what university we graduated from – are all meaningless when the time comes to face our Creator.
And yet, most people spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about these things. The media outlets play a key role in getting us to think that these items represent how others will judge us in our neighborhoods, at job interviews, when securing dates, etc. No wonder that people are so confused as to what really counts!
There are some who complain that their Maker cheated them by cutting their lives too short. In the majority of situations, this is not the case — as they forget how much time they’ve wasted in not doing what they were meant to accomplish with their talents. They are oblivious to the fact that a short-lived life could be more be more satisfying and rewarding than a life lasting eighty years without a moral compass.
If it is eternity that we are looking for, the answer can’t be found in this world. To find it, we have to go back again to the Bible and look at what John tells us that Jesus said at 14:6 – “I am the way, and the truth, and life: no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” In other words, we receive eternal life and salvation only when we trust Jesus as our Savior.
Given that our stay on this earth is temporary, we must earn the right to future salvation by living a virtuous life. There are no sanctuary cities in Heaven. The best way to accomplish this feat is by: 1) recognizing what our talents are; 2) developing these talents to the fullest of our abilities; and, 3) making a difference in the betterment of our families and others.
This is what gives us the fortitude to confront all the obstacles that we encounter in our daily lives. It is a battle that takes place in the “now” – as to dwell on what happened in the past would dilute our energies in pursuit of events that we cannot change. Those who fail to develop their strengths and abilities are those who blame fate for their mishaps. And fate has a very poor track record in securing success.
A great example of someone who refused to be bogged down by fate is the current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in President Trump’s Cabinet: Dr. Ben Carson. Born into poverty, raised by a mother with a third-grade education, and facing discrimination by outperforming some white students academically, Ben became a world-renowned neurosurgeon who was the first man to successfully separate conjoined twins joined at the head. When he faced discrimination because of his race, he recalled what his mother used to say: “If you walk into an auditorium full of racist, bigoted people … you don’t have a problem, they have a problem.”
I’m certain that when Dr. Carson faced adversity in the past, he realized that he could not change the way that people acted towards him, and he could not erase the racist history of the past towards his people. Instead, he remembered that the only thing that he could do was to play on the only string that he had in his arsenal – his attitude.
Pedro tapped his talents to the fullest by becoming a physician. He left the world a better place than he entered it by rendering excellent medical care to his many patients. He provided abundantly for his family. And he made sure that his three sons were well prepared academically or developed their talents to lead successful lives. He ensured that the Mencía surname would continue its well-deserve reputation of excellence and service to others.
Pedro made a difference in this world. What more could anyone ask of him? “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”