Letter 04: Like Chocolate To My Ears

Dear You,

You remember how the Will said to think about the people of the past?  The people you have known or known of in all your life?  About what they did and how much they achieved in their lifetimes?

Now…

If you carefully ponder…you will find that each one of those people has parted company with the others and with all that they cherished and loved, for a solitary abode, alone and unattended and you also will be like them.

Who would have guessed, eh?  That after all that thinking about lessons, the final, most important lesson of them all is to remember that none of it lasted.  That of all the things we place so much emphasis on in this world, the only ones that really matter are those that can be translated into the currency of the Next.

Remember how sometimes when we spoke I’d end up saying the most ridiculous things and you’d look at me with a raised eyebrow and this half-smile that seemed to question my sanity? One of the reasons I used to speak my mind without ‘editing’ was because I felt safe enough to think as I spoke, coming to conclusions verbally and saying them aloud as a test of how solid they sound (literally).  The other reason was to provoke that look because you did it so well.

Here’s what I’m thinking now: people around the world are talking about how to live every day and make the most of it and I find myself wondering what ‘the most of it’ means.  Are we trying to squeeze every drop out of life like we’d do with a tube of toothpaste?  Because at some point in time we’re all going to run out of breaths and we want to be able to say we used up the time we had in a good way?  

Wait a moment with that thought…who exactly is going to be commenting on the quality of life you lived? The people you leave behind?  Or you yourself?   When you learn something new, is it the place of others to talk about your experiences and what you’ve gained or do you say it for yourself?  Reminiscence cannot be done from a third-party point of view, can it?

So if it’s the people left behind who you want to comment on your life in their eulogies – then aren’t you living your life for them?  Not even for them, but for a set of words to be said at your funeral or engraved on the headstone of your grave.  How will you truly assess if you’ve made the most of life if there’s no point at which you will be able to look back and say “Now that was time well spent”?

You can only do that though, after you’ve reached the end.  As long as you have some days left in life, there is always the possibility that you will either grow and enrich your life further or that you will do something to devalue it.  Because life isn’t measured in the minutes and days that we have lived – those are temporary and lost forever with every passing second.  (See how the last one just disappeared? And another one’s gone just now…)  Life is measured in one moment.  

At any one point in time, who you are is simply the sum total of your past experiences and actions. Who you are Now is your Life.  The question is, when your last moment in this world has passed and you cross over into the Eternal Moment that will never pass, who will you be then?  What will be the value of your Now at that moment?  How much of the ‘making the most of it’ will you have carried with you into it?  Because that will be the real measure of your Life.

And it doesn’t matter how much someone loves you and wants to be there for you, this journey of realisation is one you will have to take on your own. It’s only when you’ve gone through the doorway called Death that you will be in a position to look back and evaluate your Life.    

And when you do that you’ll be alone, with only your Self to keep you company.

——

Take care to provide well for your future abode. Do not barter away eternal blessings for the pleasures of this mortal world.  

Life is a Business Deal.  A lot of people tend to think it’s a deal between you and God, but I think that’s a huge misconception.  Sure, God talks about giving ‘goodly loans’ through charity and helping ‘His Cause’.  The advice above from one of His Chosen Servants refers to a barter and there’s many references to selling your ‘soul’ or ‘self’ in exchange for His Pleasure and how that is the wisest and most excellent of all trades.

The ‘business’ bit is actually a front of sorts, because business implies an exchange of items that have value for both parties involved.  You have something I want/need, I have something you want/need, so we exchange them in good faith.

But what is it that we have that God could possibly ‘need’ or ‘want’ when He is above and beyond all needs and desires? How can we think of ourselves as being traders when we have neither goods nor leverage with which to bargain?  The reality is that He is The Giver and we are simply taking (mostly without thanks).

The only reason I could find for the business analogy is that it is familiar and appeals to our egos.  We all have egos and we cannot truly connect with God until we destroy them, but the majority of us will never manage to do that completely. Because He knows so many of us don’t stand a chance of finding the way Home on our own, He gently entices us by giving us more importance that we deserve.  The business we do is actually with ourselves.

It’s the same thing we do with our loved ones isn’t it?  Mothers and children, husbands and wives – the timeless advice given by all is that if you want to convince someone to your way of thinking, don’t demand or threaten, instead make them feel important.  Make them feel like they are the ones making the decision, even though you are the one who set it all up for their own good.  And if you love them, you wont even have to make a pretence of it at all.  (Doesn’t it send a shiver down your spine to realise how much God Loves you?)

So yes, let’s pretend that this is a business deal. This world for the next.  This life for the real Life.  A few decades on this earth for an Eternity in Heaven.  Why do we even need to talk about this when the choice is so clear?  Because we’re human, that’s why.  And one of the greatest failings of being human is the innate desire for instant gratification.

Why do the words up there talk about bartering blessing for pleasure?  And in any case why is there always an emphasis on the pleasures of this world whilst the next world seems to talk more in terms of reward and achievement?  Perhaps the lesson to be learnt in that we should not judge the worth of something based on how ‘pleasing’ it is.  Pleasure is relative and fleeting.  This is actually something humanity learnt a long time ago, which is why we have proverbs like ‘no pain, no gain’.

There are, in my opinion, two kinds of pleasure.  There is the one that comes instantly: you eat good food, the tastes entice your palate; you sit in the sun, you warm up; you read a good book, watch a movie, go to a party…all the nice feelings come straightaway.  And when you’re done or soon after, those same feelings fade away and you’re left with an emptiness you need to fill again.  So you eat again, go out in the sun when you’re cold once more, arrange to go clubbing the next weekend…and the cycle continues.  

This kind of pleasure has no ‘achievement’ quality, that’s why it doesn’t sink in and last.  In fact, it has the opposite effect in that it creates a need in you, making you hunger and crave for more. The more you need, the more you’ll do to get it.  Not very different from an addiction to drugs, it creates an addiction to ‘highs’ and ‘rushes’ and at its most basic level, an addiction to ‘life’.

The second kind of pleasure is the one that comes after a period of struggle or effort.  It’s not instantaneous, it might take decades to appear, but when it does come it’s there to stay.  The pleasing quality is secondary because despite knowing that it’s a long way off, we still invest in the things that will lead up to it.  A part of us recognizes that the long-term benefit is worth the difficulties we have to endure while getting there.

Revising for an exam, setting up a business, getting married (note I’m not saying ‘wedding’ here), giving birth…none of these is always easy or fun.   

When you see the distinctions and pass grades on your result slip, do you remember the 2-hours-a-day naps and 4 a.m. coffees that kept you going as you revised?

Setting up a business involves taking risks, living on a minimum, spending sleepless nights and working weekends for a dream that you can only hope will come true, but how do you feel when years later you have established a successful venture?  

Do you think of the fears and doubts, the efforts and sacrifices you had to make when you hear your spouse tell you they love you for the first time? Or every time after?

Giving birth has become almost legendary in terms of pain involved.  And even though there’s the cute new baby to hold soon after, there’s also years of changing nappies, teaching it how to eat, putting up with queasy messes, colic, tantrums, night-long wailing…none of which is pleasurable.  And yet, when parents put in everything they have to make it through all that, one day they wake up and find they have nurtured a fine young man or woman into maturity and only they can tell you the depth of that feeling, because pleasure doesn’t even begin to describe it.

That is why the words used are more sober and when we recognize the Real Source of these things, we describe them in their true form: blessings.  The pleasure of the Next World is so great because you ideally spend a lifetime investing in it.  You build up your Life there with the choices, sacrifices, actions and words you make here, that is why God refers to it as an achievement.  The pleasure part of it you can take for granted, and really if it’s so hard to put in words the feelings you get for successes of this world, how can you begin to describe the ones of the Next?

So yes, you can choose to ‘enjoy’ life and stock up on its delights, moving from one high to the next, but when you find yourself having fun, take a moment to pause and wonder about the longevity of that feeling.  That should allow you to pretty much decide which category it falls in.  

Then ask yourself if that half hour or hour is what you want to trade for an Eternity of the other kind of pleasure.

——–

You might (if you’re even reading this) be wondering about the title of this letter.  It’s a reminder that despite the tangents I go off on, I haven’t forgotten who it is that I’m writing to.  I saved this as the sentence to end on, because it reminded me so much of you…

Do not talk about things that you do not know. Do not speculate and pass judgement on subjects that you are not in a position to form an opinion upon and are not called upon to do so.

Before I met you, I tended towards being judgemental.  Not by my standards but by the standards of Right and Wrong.  While my intentions may have been sincere, you taught me that the only One fit to judge by those standards is the One Who set them up.  I’m not saying that I accept wrongdoing or let it pass by without protest, but I’d like to think I now understand the limits of my own perception better.

One of the many things that made me feel that our friendship was real was that we never felt the need to involve the affairs of others in our lives.  We talked and talked and talked, but it was about things that we knew about, things we wanted to learn, things we wanted to share.  The first rule we both had was not to make assumptions – about each other or anyone.

There was so much to explore in the dynamic we had created that we didn’t even have the time to look around and speculate about others.  It was refreshing to have so many conversations and never once say something that would qualify as ‘gossip’.

Packaging does add an extra quality to a product through, doesn’t it? I’ve always reacted more to the audible than the visual, which is perhaps why the sound of my father’s voice in tinged with memories of late night family chats and the smell of brewed coffee, my sister’s voice brings back school days and childhood games and my mother’s voice reminds me simultaneously of good English grammar and my internal principles (since she gave me countless lessons in both), my brother’s voice reminds me of geeky Zen, MS-DOS and summer afternoon naps.

And your voice?  Your voice made me feel like I had come home.  A place to belong with no pretence and no need to be anyone else but myself.  I remember – even a year after we first met – holding my breath for just a second before you’d say “Salaam Alaykum” in anticipation of the feeling of comfort and security, of total ease, that it never failed to bring.  

If there was a challenge to describe the many voices in my life in one phrase or word, I’d say Chicken-Soup for my grandmother, Spring for my favourite preacher, Fresh-Laundry for my best friend and for you…Liquid Chocolate.  I guess words are easier to hear and believe when they come coated in chocolate.  And easier to misunderstand as well.

I don’t like the sound of my voice too much but considering the amount of words I say with it, I sometimes wonder how much it adds or removes for those who listen to me and I regret not asking you that question.  But regardless of what was said and what was not, I often look back and wish I had made a call instead of sending that text message or email because my ears miss their dose of chocolate.

Before you think that this was a purely emotional insert to the letter, the reason I decided to tell you is that there are others I also wish I could tell and can’t anymore: my grandmother, uncles, aunts, friends I have no way to get in touch with.  

So would you do me a favour and think about the people you care about…do you have a special memory of how they sound?  Have you ever really listened when they speak? Go talk to them if you haven’t please and make a memory for yourself.  And if there’s someone you haven’t talked to in a long time, pick up the phone, dial their number and say you called ‘just to hear their voice’.  

Before it’s too late.

Always,
Me

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