I’ve lived most of my life forgetting things. I forget to shut doors and then bump into them; I forget my cell phone and miss important calls, I forget toast in the oven and burn it. I forget important deadlines, essential necessities, promised tasks, birthdays, anniversaries, telephone numbers…I’ve even forgotten my own name once. It’s never been hard for me to misplace memories and let things vanish into yesterday like they never happened. Until now.
Suddenly I remember. I remember waiting with fingers poised over a Send button three years ago today, wondering why I was doing what I was doing, debating whether to simply delete the message unsent or not. I remember sitting for months afterwards and thinking – first in amazement and later in confusion – of what it did accomplish, and whether it might have been better never to have indulged in that one (and only) true whim I ever had in my life.
I remember a lot more too. I haven’t gone back to re-read a conversation or to reference an event but I can recall with a clarity I find surprising, the most random moments from the past thirty-six months. Words, gestures, tones, silences, events. I can recall the coolness of a stone step and the barely comfortable heat of a sunned bench. I can hear the rain on a tin roof and shiver at the memory of chill breeze. I remember the colour of the sky on certain days and the smell of a specific scent on others, I can feel ghost textures that my fingers trailed on and sense emotions without the events that evoked them.
I have many many details in my mind that will haunt me for the rest of my life. I don’t know why these things have been carved indelibly in my mind. I never consciously stored them and so I don’t know how to rid myself of them. At first I thought that I remembered them because the specific memories had such strong associations that there was no choice but to do so. But then I discovered that many a time, something I had stored away as being special had simply slipped your mind as a passing event.
Did you know that sometimes saying “I don’t remember” doesn’t mean you have a bad memory? It implies that you didn’t consider that incident worth remembering. Perhaps there is something to be said about everything that has happened in that? Perhaps.
Remember that this world is working under the laws ordained by Him, and it consists of the totality of actions and reactions, causes and effects, calamities and reverses, pains and pleasures, rewards and punishments; but this is not all that the picture depicts; there are things in it that are beyond our understanding, things that we do not and cannot know, and things that cannot be foreseen and foretold. For instance the rewards and punishments of the Day of Judgement.
I have always been aware of the Unseen working under the patterns of our actions and words. It has been a blessing of the faith we belong to – knowing that the Hand of God supports all our plans. And that sometimes, it thwarts them too. But that doesn’t mean the way things work is fatalist either.
The laws set out by God guide us to understand what causes will have what effects. When you try and grab the blade of a sharp knife, you will cut yourself and bleed, but when you hold on to someone you trust, it makes you feel warmer and more secure. The same hand, the same sense, but such different feelings based on what you apply it to. It only matters which you choose to reach out for.
Pain and pleasure are to some extent our own doing. We may feel them as an effect to the circumstances around us or the actions of others towards us, but we can also cause them in others. If you are born with a disability or in circumstances you cannot control, there is a different kind of patience and understanding required of you. But if you have the power to harm or to heal, to support or abandon, to help or to hurt, to make the right choices or the wrong ones…as long as you are equally capable of doing one or the other, I cannot find any justification for choosing the negative option.
It is true that the future cannot be predicted, that the familiar can become strange overnight, but for every moment in our lives, we have the choice to try and make the present the kind of ‘cause’ that will have the best ‘effect’ on our future. We can neither blame our character and habits nor our feelings and fears. If we are to be truly human, we must step back from ourselves and first take control of who we are.
Otherwise every dictator and tyrant, every liar and thief in the world will claim that they only committed their crimes because they couldn’t control their actions, because it was in them and they didn’t understand what motivated them. Because once they were down a certain path, it was too late or difficult to turn back. It was when people stopped questioning themselves and holding themselves accountable, when people refused to take long hard looks at themselves and forgot that the only way to perfect themselves was to admit their flaws, and then to have the courage to change…when this happened, we ended up with the society that surrounds us today.
Under these circumstances, if you do not understand a thing, do not refuse to accept it. Remember that your lack of understanding is due to the insufficiency of your knowledge. Remember that when you came into this world your first appearance was that of an ignorant, uneducated and unlearned being; then you gradually acquired knowledge. There were several things which were beyond your knowledge, which perplexed and surprised you and about which you did not understand “why” and “how”. Gradually you acquired knowledge about some of those subjects, and in future your knowledge and vision may further expand.
For every four out of five questions I have ever asked you in seeking understanding, you have replied with: “I don’t know why”. I have to be satisfied with this answer because I don’t see myself getting any others in its stead. But it bothers me that you are satisfied with it too. It reeks of resignation and I never took you as being of the people who give up on themselves so easily.
Of course you don’t know! Few of us do when faced with new and frightening circumstances. Isn’t life a process of growth? What to do, when to do it, how to do it? Every time we face a new choice in life, our first reaction is always “I don’t know how / why / what.” But we weigh options and think of possibilities, we find out and do research, we take the effort to learn and be absolutely sure that we do know so that we can do what is best for ourselves and those around us.
So when you say you don’t know and then you’re okay with not knowing, with ignoring the things that would help you understand your actions and the consequences they have, this seems to me to be a stubborn streak that stunts potential and abilities. An imprisoning of the self by someone who was born to be free. A fear that has gripped you so completely that it has crippled you on your True Journey.
It is as the Will says: you only have got so far in life based on the things you have been taught in the journey from infancy through childhood to adulthood. What you learn next or ignore, how far you go and in which direction – now these things are in your hands and your responsibility. And where you go, what you do, the people you are with, these things determine the kind of path you will adopt.
The son to whom this Will was addressed has said “If you felt the need to befriend people, then befriend a person whose association adds to your dignity…” because habits are infectious. How much true dignity is there in your life right now? How much of its lack is from your own choice? Are you adding dignity to their lives?
Even if you don’t do something to change your life and fail instead, it will be of your own doing and not just ‘meant to happen’. Inaction is as much an active choice as action is.
Therefore, the best thing for you to do is to seek guidance of the One Who has created you, Who maintains and nourishes you, Who has given you a balanced mind and a normal working body.
I have a book on my shelf that talks about why men don’t ask for directions and women can’t read maps. It’s an age-old Mars/ Venus issue. In both cases, the problem is with taking instructions. Regardless of gender, our pride prevents us from asking someone else for what we consider to be simple direction.
Therefore, the concept of asking an entity we can’t even see for guidance on how to live our lives is one that rubs a large number of people the wrong way. Life is the only thing we think is our personal property to do with as we will. To be told how to go about it would be the final supreme act of suppression. What would happen to free thinking and expression? What would happen to independent spirits and exploration? What would happen to identity and individuality? What would happen to ‘me’ and what I want?
We don’t disagree on the existence of God. You know as well as I do how much of your daily life depends on Him. The body you use – and misuse – in all its health and glory, that is a gift from Him; every breath you take, you owe Him. Your mind that challenges and explores, that is capable of witty answers and thoughtful conclusions, of dreaming and imagining, filled with intelligence and sensitivity – that was created and given to you by Him.
Can you imagine what kind of life you would live if you didn’t have a personal sanctuary within, that keeps you sane? How often have you withdrawn to that special inner place and found that you can be good company for yourself because you have been blessed with the ability to do so?
You have the capacity to show enormous appreciation for the smallest of favours from other human beings, to make them feel that the one good turn they have done you is worth a dozen times more. Why do you then deny it to God who has given you literally everything? Why do you give so much to others whom you owe no more than thanks, and keep away from God the constant gratitude He deserves? If you did that to another human being, society would look down on you. Indeed you would not respect someone who did that to others. So how do you accept it in yourself towards Him?
Your prayers should be reserved for Him only, your requests and solicitations should be to Him, you should be afraid of Him and of nobody else.
He doesn’t want much from you, you know. Dedication to His cause – which in essence is your cause as it only perfects you – is all He asks of you. That you obey Him and follow His Laws. That you show utmost loyalty to Him alone.
And that in times of confusion, when decisions need to be made you turn to Him for help instead of running away into the escapism of desires. That you stand up and face whatever He sends your way, always choosing to do the right thing, even when you don’t feel like. That you seek out which path is the right one, instead of hiding behind excuses of not knowing.
He wants you to make Him your priority, because you are His priority. He created you to be an example of nobility, honour and leadership. He gave you the potential and the circumstances to mould you – sometimes with the gentle touch of a potter, sometimes with the fierce flames of a furnace.
Why do you give in to fear of your own self when the only one to be feared is Him?
I write these words and try to inject as much enthusiasm into them as I can, but I must admit (raw honesty was the policy, right?) that I find my energy waning. I am tired of coming up with new ways to say things so that they have some effect. I feel like I’m beginning to repeat myself; scraping away with a nail file at the brick wall of your prison when you have the key to open the door and walk out yourself…
This isn’t about something simple or inconsequential. This is about life and death, about saving an Eternity and I wonder if I am up to fighting this battle. At first my doubt was whether you would ever read these words, but now I wonder if even when read they will ever be the spark I try so hard to make them.
How many times do you strike flint before giving up reasonable hope of ever lighting a fire? When do you finally give up and allow yourself to fall asleep in the dark without knowing when the dawn will come?
I ask myself these questions because three years have passed and the only thing I have to show for it is being stuck between ‘Farewell’ and ‘Hello again’.
*All italicized blocks of quotes are from the Will of Ali bin Abi Talib (a) to his son.