The nature of Truth is such that it is (meant to be) for the one who experiences it, utterly transformative. And this is true equally when it comes to matters of friendship, and of love, selfhood, and, indeed, when it comes to matters of Truth itself. This is what True things tend to do: they aid with the clarification of muddied waters.
When Truth arrives, it has this tendency to strike you rather like lightning, to take you by surprise. And when what is Real becomes, well, realised… usually, all the surrounding noise tunes out; the static ceases to be. One’s focus tends to sharpen, while what is peripheral gradually fades out of view.
But how can we get there, in the first place — to the embracing of what truly matters, and to the dissolution of all that does not?
Each of us has our own life story (as well as the various splinter stories that the ‘bigger pictures’ are comprised of), and a life story that I find particularly fascinating is that of my uncle.
When he was younger, he had been something of a ‘gangster’. He had come to this country at the age of fifteen. All the girls had wanted him – the white ones and the Bengali ones, alike – apparently. And I used to listen to such stories, thinking this was likely something of a massive exaggeration, but no: I have heard the same things from the mouths of his sisters (my mother and my aunt) who had attended secondary school with him, and from others who had grown up with him — including my friend’s mum, who insists that, yes, all the girls (including, rather disgustingly, some of his own cousins) had been after him, but not her: she just used to find him annoying (and still does, apparently).
My uncle used to get into a lot of intense fights. While the ladies used to find themselves completely infatuated with him, some of the boys around him had not been, towards him, so open and welcoming. They used to hurl insults at him — “freshie” and the like. And thus arose a number of bloodied fistfights, one of which had resulted in my uncle’s dismissal from his part-time job at PC World. One time, a certain conflict with a certain man (which concerned his sister) led to his eventual use of … fire. Let’s just leave it at that.
Sometimes, when I listen to all these stories about my uncles and aunts — about who and how they had been when they were younger — I wonder what it would be like for them, now, to sit with a former version of themselves. How much does ‘now’ they know, compared to ‘then’ they? And how much would they be able to relate to one another?
My uncle, for example, is nothing like this past version of him that I constantly hear about. He has probably retained the ‘popularity’ element to some extent — it would appear as though most people I come across know, or know of, him.
I guess you could say that he grew up. And he changed – as it is in human nature to do. We are not, not at all, set in stone. [I mean, without these scopes for change and for the allowance of complexity, what, really, is the point?!]
What I like is that his story reminds me of that beautiful quote from ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’:
“For what it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit; stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same; there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”
It was almost like my uncle had chosen to live his youth again – but in a different way – from the age of thirty, onwards. His own children noticed the change in him; it had been a noticeable shift. Perhaps the first and most significant of his life changes had been his coming to Truth, at the age of twenty-five, or so. But even thereafter, his relationship with Islam had been (noticeably) ever-changing.
He had started off, maybe, by adhering to a version of the Deen that had been quite strict, quite rules-orientated. But the point of this religion is not to lose one’s spirit. It is, rather, to hone the soul, and to cherish it.
My uncle had always resented the fact that he never had the chance to go to university. But, throughout his twenties and his thirties, he had made sure to spend a great deal of time educating himself.
I distinctively remember his bookshelf from over a decade ago, for example. Filled with books on Islam, on the hijab, on Christianity; he even had his own annotated copy of the Bible.
I think, what is nice is that nobody really thinks of him as who he had been way back then, anymore. He is no longer the pugnacious and thrill-seeking ladies’ man he had once been popularly known as; he had wanted to change some things, and so he decided to actually do so.
And the beauty of it all is that, throughout this journey, while some things of ours will necessarily change, some things will stay the same, but in differing ways. For example, now my uncle chases thrills and adrenaline rushes through climbing mountains and through braving 3G swings and the like. He drives up to Scotland at least six times a year. He travels quite a lot, and learns some pretty cool things every time he does. The University of Life, as he is known to call it.
He takes his wife on picnics; these days, they act like they are two eighteen-year-olds in love… after twenty-one years of being married to one another! A relationship is the coming-together of two people. And, firstly, people are ever-changing entities. Secondly, it is not the job of another person to complete you. A relationship is the coming-together of two complete-in-and-of-themselves, ever-changing individuals. Symbiosis; allowing the other to lean on you, and you lean on them too.
And if, day by day, people are changing, it must necessarily follow that, day by day, interpersonal relationships change too. Sometimes for better, and sometimes for worse.
We ought to be defined, in the popular sense, not by what we may have done, nor by what people may say of us, nor by anything else other than what we (present tense) do. What we are choosing to do now.
So, with that information, dear friend, I say, very well then, perhaps we ought to see this day, today, as being Day Zero.
And tomorrow shall be
The clocks have turned; we have flipped all the calendars. We have chosen to begin right wherever we may be now.
And if you are, say, twenty years old while reading this, then you are roughly 7,300 days old.
7,300 days ago, you popped outta the womb, so to speak, and you said hello to the world, all red-faced and confused, presumably.
And if you are to live to the age of eighty, then there are roughly 21,900 days left, for you, here. Such a vast amount of time, and yet, such a small one. 21,900 days left – if even this much – until you reach the gates of eternity.
Where are you going; where are you trying to go? And which people are you trying to follow, to get there?
What are you going to do with these days that remain – that remain untouched by you, thus far? And will you, perhaps, give yourself a try? I so hope that you do. I hope you chase your passions like the wind chases the leaves. I hope you sleep very well tonight; that there is something beautiful in every new day, for you.
Perhaps it is time to part with a lot of these preconceived notions of ourselves, and of the world around us, too.
You will find that there is very little use in renewing one’s sorrows, by looking backwards too often. And there is so much good that may come from having Sabr and from praying one’s Salah, today. Pray for today, and for tomorrow, and for your Ākhirah. Learn, I guess, to wave goodbye to good – and bad – days that have now passed you by. And remember that all old chapters had been relatively new, once. But they had only been allowed to happen, via change. Via some necessary goodbyes. Like… goodbye to the womb; hello to the world. Goodbye to always being at home; hello to Nursery [where, apparently, I kicked and screamed at my teacher on my first day. I tried to escape, a few times. Separation anxiety, I guess]
One educational experience ends. A new one takes its place; a new place, for a newer version of you. One friendship ends. You change, and they change. Maybe you will meet again, at some point soon. But, in the meantime, may Allah bless you with the most beautiful connections, and ones that truly nurture your being and your growth; Ameen.
What I think I have realised about Life, by now, is that it tends to give rise to periods of action (which, yes, can be good or bad) followed by periods of… relative inactivity, transitional phases. But there are some golden threads, we may find, that can be weaved through all of these days. It begins at Fajr, and continues with the intentional cherishing of all of the ‘small’ things. The ‘little’ ones — those timelessly valuable ones. The ones that actually make it all worthwhile, I suppose.
You have got to remember that, in reality, in your reality, your own mind and spirit are all there is. Your field of vision, what you see, and how you process it all. That is all there is, for you. Objective truth, which is from Allah, and then, the truth of you, the experiencer.
It is hard to allow yourself to end certain chapters in your story, I know. And it can feel like time is stealing you away from yourself; like the ground beneath you is about to give way, any time soon. But, no, it is not. It is not going to give way. You are safe, and you are going towards some things that
you are not quite able to put your finger on, just yet. But there will be awe, and laughter, and butterflies. Afternoon naps, perhaps, and sleepless nights. You will not be here forever. You will not live here forever; you will not look just like this, nor think just like this, forever. Who knows whom you might turn out to be, after, say, 1,000 of these days?!
And Day Zero could be today; Day One tomorrow.
One of the most important things to bear in mind is the notion of authenticity. Hypocrisy is a scary thing, and it is a disease of the spirit that seems to affect so many. Analogous to people always auditioning for roles that they do not actually ever play. Blindly pandering to others’ expectations; obediently cutting out parts of oneself due to perceived criticisms. I would personally say that this – hypocrisy, irony – is the biggest ill that plagues numerous Desi communities, today.
It gives rise to misery; it allows for the concealment of abuse behind closed doors; it makes us lose trust in various things, from very young ages. Well, with all due respect, I say, fudge that!
I do not wish to live an infallible life: I want to live a real one.
We want to make our days count, somehow, don’t we? We fight with consciousness; we look for love. We eat food that sustains us; our slumbers take us someplace else. We want to own things; we fear death so. But fear not. It is all just an unwinding story; maybe it won’t all make sense right now. The ways of today will not be the ways of forever.
We are, each of us, divinely-decided souls, coupled with limited compilations of breaths. Inhale, exhale. We lose a little part of ourselves each and every time we do so. But we also gain, as time runs forth, through loving and through learning.
In living, dear caterpillar, one must not forget to dream; do look up at the sky, from time to time. Oh, and in dreaming, little butterfly, one must not forget to live; look down at your feet, too. These days are passing you by, surely. And, in you, there is such potential; doubt it not. The yous of yesterday are long gone.
So I ask you now, dear friend, who is the you of today? This is the only version of you that truly counts, right now. And, a question that is completely unanswerable at present: who is the you of tomorrow?
(And just where will you end up, in the life after this one?)
Sadia Ahmed J., 2020