Yesterday, my sister who passed away last year would have turned 35. Ten days before her 34th birthday, she left us suddenly and for the first few days after after she was gone I kept thinking to myself how unfair it was for her to go so soon. How could somebody so young, who seemed to be finally hitting her stride in her life and career, get snatched away so suddenly. It felt like she had so much left to do.
That was how I felt until I encountered her tribe.
It started with a Facebook page created by one of her dear friends and then a WePay donation account I set up to simplify the process for anybody who wanted to help financially with the costs of repatriating her body to Uganda and other funeral related expenses. Within a few hours both pages went viral and exploded with activity. People shared story after story of how Phina had touched their lives and donation after donation came in from all over the world. It was an overwhelming outpouring of love and concern for a grieving family – but it was also an amazing illustration of the impact one person can have on hundreds (possibly thousands) of people in a relatively short time.
In 33 years she had cultivated a tribe from her early days in elementary school in Botswana all the way to her graduate studies at Tufts University in Boston. Whether it was a high school friend who remembered her from their soccer team, or a college friend who remembered how she took then under her wing, there was a remarkable consistency in the depth of emotional (oftentimes life-changing) effect her life had on others.
And she did it all without having a Facebook or Twitter account. Without having a lot of money to her name. Without coming from a powerful family with connections. In our highly networked and connected world, she was one of the few people who still sent birthday cards and ‘just thinking of you’ notes to her friends and family.
Her wealth was her endless capacity to love others and she did it with a gentleness and humility that is very rare today.
Though I miss her dearly, I no longer feel like she was ‘snatched away’ too soon. I believe that she completed her mission here and her work will live on through all the people’s lives that she changed.
As I reflect on her tribe in the context of my focus on building platforms this year, it is very clear to me that it is not the tools or methods that you use to reach people that matter the most – its your heart and the generosity with which you share it.