I wonder…do you remember The Book? It was going to make us famous and make every other person on the planet envy us, but mostly it was going to celebrate the amazing thing we had produced through our friendship.
Long before we met, we talked. And oh, what conversations we had! Words and sentences and turns of phrases and one topic rolling into another with never-ending freshness. We never ran out of something original to say or share. And while I know full well that there must be thousands, if not millions, of people who think those exact same thoughts about their conversations, I do believe there was something about ours that made them stand out from the common majority.
Having witnessed or listened in on the conversations of others since then, I can honestly say we didn’t just have witty or interesting exchanges, we had intelligent ones. It wasn’t simply about banter, but about creative and educational banter. I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much. I could finally explore all my nutty ideas, try out my random analogies, throw in the oddest trivia I had gathered over the years…and you would always be able to keep up, and pleasantly surpass me.
I loved the fact that sometimes we went out of our way to dig out the most obscure factoid and casually throw it into a conversation just to gauge the other person’s reaction – and how neither of us ever admitted to not having known or heard of that particular piece of information before. Conversation with you required research, mental flexibility and always being on my toes – and I was totally ‘jazzed’ by that. We didn’t just talk about funny stuff either, we talked about life and philosophies and morbid issues as well. It’s just that we could find a way to share the most dull experience in words that made an adventure out of it. It made every exchange a meaningful experience.
With time, as we understood each other better, I know I began to be able to almost predict what you would say next. I could set up a climactic statement I wanted to make way in advance and play out what I would say and then what you would say and then what I would say…. It was like a complex game with so many unpredictable factors and yet the joy was in how everything always worked out so we were both winners. Perhaps it was less a game and more a work of art, one that we created together, each contributing an essential aspect of what would be a unique masterpiece.
But I think what I really treasured the most was how whenever a conversation would get to that point when another predictable move would have made it boring, one of us managed to throw in an unexpected sentence that suddenly made the other sit up and say “Where did that come from?” I think we lived for those moments and each time we spoke, that need to be the one who would come up with the surprise would always be at the back of our minds. It was never planned for, it always happened naturally and we shared the ‘wins’ because the person being surprised was just as delighted as the one who sprung it.
As we wrote back and forth, each string of exchanged messages became a ‘thread’ in our own two-member discussion group and when one thread wasn’t enough to contain all our thoughts, we started new ones, delighting in what we called ‘multi-threading’ – keeping a number of simultaneous and yet completely different conversations going without losing track of what belonged where. In fact, we tried to make them as different as possible, almost like worlds of their own so that if ever one of us slipped up the thought that didn’t belong would stick out like a purple Martian in a green field. But neither of us ever slipped up, did we?
And finally when we sat back one day and looked at how much we had said in how short a time, we were flabbergasted by what we had produced, barely believing either of us had been capable of sharing so much. We had written two full-length novels worth in the space of a few months. Thus the idea of The Book was born.
It was to be our gift to the world, a co-authored work that would let people get a glimpse of something they could never have but should be able to enjoy nevertheless. And since it was to be a compilation of our threads of conversation, what better to call it than what it was? The Book of Threads.
Every so often when I now realise that the book will never exist, that there will never be another thread or another conversation of that caliber, it makes me sad and echo-y inside. I dunno, but perhaps these Letters are in a way my attempt to make a smaller version of the book of my own? With just one side of the conversation – because it’s all I have?
But there’s a huge difference between a monologue and a dialogue. And these days when I sit to write anything remotely conversational, I’m always left with a feeling at the end that there’s something lacking my writing, that something is missing. It seems to lack a certain je ne sais quoi and I’m inclined to think that that elusive element is your input…
Why all this talk of words and threads? Because it seemed to me always that the Threads were what bound us togetherl; they wove a net around us. With each new one that allowed us to learn more about each other – and more importantly about each other’s minds – they created a firmer, more defined relationship. I thought it was a pretty strong net too. I’m not sure if you simply shook off the threads when you left and they snapped like fine spider-web silk, but I’d like to imagine you had to hack and slash your way to break free and that each cut was a painful one. But that’s me being melodramatic. And why would anyone hurt themselves that much anyway?
That said, I’ve realised that no matter how much we invest in the relationships we weave into our lives, there is one relationship that surpasses all others and that we neglect the most. And I have read these words below with fresh eyes in the recent months:
“First and foremost, my son, fear Allah. Be His obedient servant. Keep His thought always fresh in your mind. Be attached to and carefully guard the Rope that connects you with Him. Can any other connection be stronger, more durable and more lasting than this to command greater respect and consideration or to replace it?”
Can you believe that? Here is a man who is soon to die. A man who has lived a hard life, who has been in poverty and rejected by society as well as gained authority over a kingdom. In his sixty or so years of experiences that few others have had in one lifetime, he picks this statement as his core message and most important advice: Fear God. It just places the entire universe and all the confusion of life in perfect perspective if you can understand that one thing…that God Owns Everything and you only have Him to fear.
But even that is not the really amazing thing. There’s a hidden beauty in that concept. Read the rest of the sentence again.
This God you are to fear is a God you are also connected to by Love. Always. In Islam, the analogy of the Rope is very common and there is always an emphasis on not letting go of it, on holding on it, on clinging to it. And that advice is always followed by a promise that this is the strongest Rope in existence that won’t break or let you ever fall.
In my mind, I see this Rope as having been being woven with threads of Love and Power, of Majesty and Mercy, of Might and Beauty, of Truth and Justice, each strand infinite in its completeness, in its strength, in its perfection. Since something infinite can by its very nature never break or else it would become finite, the Rope is also infinitely Reliable.
If we were to look at life as a mountain we are supposed to scale, it would be this seemingly huge unsurmountable chunk of rock that has an unpredictable surface. We can’t see its top and we don’t know what lie ahead, we only know what we have already conquered and what we need to conquer now. But we do know there’s a view at the top that’s to die for (excuse the pun).
So everyday we climb a little; some days the going is easy and we make a lot of progress, other days finding foot- and hand-holds is a challenge and we need to inch our way up and yet other days we just give up for a bit and stop where we are, refusing to move until we realise that there’s only two ways from where we’re at: either keep going up or let go and fall to destruction.
We try to get friends to climb with to make the going easy, to help each other out and as we do this, we begin to create networks of our own making. We offer to hold out safety lines for others and they do the same for us. And just as with mountain climbing the more we trust someone, the more we’re willing to let go of some of our fears and take risks, relying on that person to be there should we slip. But sometimes, those same people let us down. They get distracted, let go of the rope and go a different route or they cut off the rope on purpose.
Those are the most traumatic experiences we ever have. Because for those first ‘moments’ of free fall, we believe that we are going to hit the bottom and be crushed into dust and we can’t believe how this person we trusted so much can watch as we do that. It is that moment that God wants us to remember that His Rope runs by our side all the way to the bottom and all we need to is put out our hands and grab it to stop falling.
In fact, I believe that God doesn’t always wait for you to grab it, sometimes He just yanks you up anyway because He Knows you don’t really have the presence of heart or mind to do so. Even if you do hit rock bottom and there’s nothing but darkness, if you just reach your hand out a little, I can guarantee you will feel it brush against your fingers and all you have to do is hold on it and tug, and He’ll pull you up.
The only condition is that you should have ‘guarded’ that Rope to the best of your ability while you were still safe.
When we go climbing in real life, don’t we check the safety lines inch by inch for frays and cuts? Where do we do that? Halfway up the climb? No. We do it before we even begin climbing and we do it before every climb. So why should the biggest challenge we will ever face be different? The most important event – living our lives – also involves the biggest risk factors and the biggest losses if we fail. Why don’t we then regularly check to see that we are connected to the only Rope that can save us when all others will fail? Why don’t we look after it and keep it a strong hold on to it with constantly renewed faith and trust, with belief and obedience, with love and fear?
When we place our trust on another human being, we often forget to take into account their flaws, we forget that there is always a possibility they will let us down. When we don’t place our trust in God, we forget to take into account that He is Perfect, that He will Never let us down. That is the problem with our weaving skills and that is why the safety nets of our faith are often made up of uneven weaves, gaping holes and disconnected, sloppy patterns.
So yes, fear God. But not with a negative fear of a vengeful, dictatorial Power. Rather, do it with the awestruck fear of someone who has just realised how amazing the One they fell in love with is.
It’s a feeling just like you might feel standing at the bottom of that mountain, when you look up and you can’t see the peak. You know the view from the top will be the most beautiful, life-changing vision and you understand that without the mountain being that high, the view would never exist nor would you be able to reach it and yet you have a fear of the sheer incline, of that fact that there is no way to conquer the difference in the height of the mountain and your own tiny stature. But this fear only makes you respect the mountain more, it doesn’t change the beauty of the view or your determination to reach it.
Life is the climb and the view is our reunion with God. You have to fear His Justice because if He uses it in judging you, there is no way you can match up to its Perfection. You have to be afraid that your lack of obedience or your sins will make you as undeserving of His Mercy as a person who is careless and reckless about safety procedures before a climb.
And yet, you have to remember that despite all this, there is always The Rope.
When you let go of our rope, I did think I was going to fall all the way to the bottom. I was a little surprised when I didn’t and after I realised why, this letter began to take shape and I began to appreciate the threads that held us together for so long in a way I never had before. So as the man I quoted above, this is my sincere desire for you: that you realise that it’s never too late to start tending your Rope and that there is nothing to be ashamed of in clinging like your life depends on it, because it does.
And if you ever fall – because we all do more than once in life – know that His Rope will always be out there for you to grab and alongside with it, if you want, will be the thinner, lighter but sincerely available one that I’ll always be holding out for you as well.