It is dark outside. That soothing end-of-the-night darkness that curls like a blanket on the tall trees canopying the patio outside the windows of my room. Fajr azaan fills the silence. I utter a silent dua. That time of the day when despite feeling sleepy every sense wakes up with a start. When every heartbeat becomes a prayer. I think about my son in New York whom I miss as I live. Knowing he is happy, mashAllah, my heart continues its rhythm. My family is my world, and their well-being is my strength. Even when I’m unaware of it, my gratitude for their existence is constant.
Today, one thought swirls in my mind, light as a snowflake, sprinkling its powdery transience all over my room. Why do we live as if we have been promised immortality?
Something shifted within me. A few days ago, I had a long talk with my son. We talk every day, and we listen to one another, but sometimes we have conversations that change the way we look at things. My son’s advice was to focus on the way I offered my namaz. That if I have faith in my namaz to be a direct communication with Allah, I have, within the four walls of my room, the perfect blessing of being away from my worldly thoughts and concerns and heartache and pain to seek full refuge in my interaction with my Creator. To pray with all of me could be my best gift to myself, secure in the knowledge that He listens. Always.
A lifelong routine of praying, my five-time ritual of prostration to Allah, is meant to be a truly special spiritual and physical activity. I pray to Him, for Him. It is just me on the prayer mat, my mind and body in supplication to Allah, with every word of the namaz clearly uttered, the meaning of the verses etched in my mind. The last few days have awakened in me a deep sense of the beauty, the significance, the power of ibadaat. Now my heart also prays. I owe my son a world of gratitude.
Last week, I visited an old family friend who lives two streets behind my house. I have known her since she was a teenager. A classically beautiful woman; two grown-up children, both married; wealthy; adored by her family and a large number of friends, she seemed to have everything. Diagnosed with cancer in 2019, for months she went through hours-long, excruciating sessions of chemotherapy, and became cancer free for a while. Last December, her monthly pet scan showed that her cancer in remission had spread throughout her stomach. She fell ill a few days ago. The doctors diagnosed her situation as critical.
When I saw her, lying in her bed, a tube in her nose, almost unconscious on pain-fighting morphine, unrecognizable, I felt a tightness in my chest. She couldn’t speak, she indicated her needs with her tired eyes, with her enfeebled hands. She motioned to her son to move her body from one side to another. Her long beautiful hair, her lifelong asset she took great care of, now shoulder length, was still glossy, still her. Her mother and daughter, her daughter-in-law, her nurse, her domestic staff were there, her personal touch all over her home.
There was just one thing missing: her. She was not there although her body, wrecked by cancer, was propped on several pillows on her specially ordered-from-Turkey, remote-controlled, velvet-covered patient bed.
Two days later, I visited her again. I sat in the living room with her son and her seven-year-old mini pug. The dog she loves like a family member couldn’t be with her all the time, and that broke his heart. I saw that in his sad eyes scrunched in his adorable little face. His small body devoid of any joy, he hid under a sofa every few minutes. Away from her, he was not himself.
When I went inside her room, she was awake, a light smile spreading on her lovely face as she saw me. Her eyes sparkled, and her cheeks had a bit of colour. It was a feeling of so much relief, hearing her voice, low, hesitant, but her voice. A giant TV played the latest political shenanigans in Pakistan, and her son and I laughed as all three of us wondered what would happen the next day, the day of the vote of no-confidence against Prime Minister Imran Khan. But in that room, the April afternoon heat not touching its airconditioned walls, a large painting of a woman reclining in repose above her bed, the only thing that mattered was that she was feeling much better. One day at a time.
I pray for her after every namaz. Her condition took me by my shoulders and shook me so hard, I felt a jolt run through my mind and body. So much of our lives are enmeshed in issues that matter but do not deserve so much of our attention, every day, 24/7, on a loop.
My mind and body will not let go of their old ways in one day, but I have made a promise to myself: be aware of every little good in my life, health being the most important one. Nothing is more important than being alive—healthy in body, healthy in mind. Everything else is mere details.
We live as if we were created with the certainty of eternity. Our concern for our tomorrow evokes in us a fear that whisper in our ears to be oblivious of the moment we are in. The trivial significance we attach to our ability to have a normal life, to our healthy bodies, our active minds, our beating hearts. How we take our essential movements for granted. Our mental and physical strength, our existence and defence mechanisms, are things we ascribe little value to. The way we do things that are not good for our bodies, the stress with which we whip our minds, the residue of pain we stubbornly carry within our hearts, we are so hard on ourselves all the time, we forget the impermanence of our reality. So much pressure on us to have a perfect life, the ideal life, we forget the preciousness of what we do have.
The issues are real, their importance exaggerated. How much money is enough? Never having enough to fix up the house that is falling apart around us. Are our children on the right track? When will I have my dream house, my dream job, my dream business, my dream car? The insecurity of growing old, wondering if a visit to a dermatologist will help me feel better. Missing our loved ones who live in different cities, different continents. Half-heartedly doing things that we know are essential. Wishing we could have spent more time with the family members who left us too abruptly, too soon. Praying without paying attention to the verses we recite on auto. Tomorrow. I will start living tomorrow. Without the slightest guarantee of tomorrow.
The relationships we pay little attention to, the hugs that are hurried, the words of kindness we leave unsaid, the silence we forget to fill, the promises that are broken without a thought, the bonds we let time and distance and busy schedules weaken, the texts we seldom return, the hurt we store within, the grudges we nourish, the forgiveness we don’t allow ourselves to seek or give, the calls we never make, the loved ones we rarely meet, the pain we ignore, the hearts that are broken, the love we assume to be forever. Tomorrow. I will reach out tomorrow. Without the least assurance of a tomorrow.
We are not immortal. Our bodies betray us without a warning. Our lives end without a notification. What is within our grasp is our willingness to live, cherishing each moment of being alive, of being healthy, of being loved, of being able to love. Life is today, this moment, now. Live.