Wednesday, July 21, 2010

We Went to Give, But Instead Received So Much More in Return

I held her hand as the elevator navigated its way to the first floor. It was time for her to go back. Neither of us wanted to let go.
The Alzheimer's ward of any nursing home is one of the most depressing places one could ever visit. The people there are living in an alternate universe, complete with fantasies that can sometimes be unnerving. Not being recognized by your own mother, father, or sibling can be unbearable to some. Most stop visiting at all.
3....2....1. The elevator came to a complete stop. I felt her hand gently squeeze mine as the doors opened, revealing the stark white lobby before us. The attendant was already waiting down the hall to escort my new friend Lela to her room. 
Our time together was up.
After exiting the elevator, I leaned down to tell her how much I had enjoyed her company. As she listened, I felt her squeezing my hand tighter, her face contorted in deep thought. I couldn’t help wonder what she was thinking.
She tapped my shoulder, pulling me in for a hug. The force she used was surprising for such a frail body. She loosened her grip but made sure our faces we’re still eye level. Holding my gaze, she did the most unexpected thing of all...she spoke.
“Thank you,” she whispered.
I stood there, paralyzed in shock. Besides communicating with smiles and hand gestures, she’d barely said a word all day. The nurses said Lela’s Alzheimer's made it difficult for her to communicate with the outside world, forcing her to go days, sometimes weeks without speaking to anyone. 
What about to someone she’d never met? I asked. “Forget it,” they had said. 
Yet, for that moment in time, Lela proved them all wrong. She wasn’t a “hopeless case”. All she needed was for someone to show her that they cared. Even if that person happened to be a complete stranger.
Our eyes stayed locked for one more second before the attendant wheeled her away down the hall and disappeared around a corner. I stood there a minute longer, letting the weight of that moment crash over me. Tears welled up in my eyes.
The day had definitely not gone as planned. All the meticulous planning, pretty schedules, and sheer organization we were armed with had all evaporated the second we stepped foot into the John Knox nursing home. Everything felt like it was falling apart.
But as I stood there in that deserted hallway, reflecting on the events that ensued as a result, none of that initial chaos mattered.

I thought of the joy I saw in our new friend Ana’s face as Ala, Hadeel and Sundus played a high paced game of pictionary with her and others. She told us solemnly that at 90 years old, she expected “to die in this place.” But her face quickly brightened when she recounted how much fun she had with us today.
Or the amusement that filled our new friend John’s face as Mohammad and Imtiaz taught him how to play Connect Four for the first time. I remember glancing over to see how the game was going, instead finding them engrossed in a deep conversation....Connect Four was never really that interesting anyways.
The sound of Elizabeth, Saira, and Riazul’s laughter at our new friend Peggy’s sarcasm was still ringing in my ears. Her spunky personality definitely seemed like it was cultivated over a lifetime of traveling and interesting experiences. All that she needed to shine was an audience....and now that she had one, her face couldn’t be anymore radiant.
“Excuse me ma’am, are you lost?” 
The nurse’s voice echoing from the distance cut through my thoughts and brought me spinning back into reality. I hadn’t realized how long I had been standing in that hallway. I shook my head and slowly started walking back to the elevator.
Something Peggy had said earlier that day really stuck with me. “Never put something you could do today on hold. Ever,” she sighed. “Or you’ll end up sitting one day wondering if you had spent your days actually living your life or watching it being lived from a distance.”
SubhnaAllah, there’s one gift Allah (swt) gave so many of us that we often take for granted. We never think about it, even though we live it everyday. How we make use of this gift could possibly make or break our entire life.
That gift is youth.
Ali ibn Abi Talib (raddyah Allahu Anahu) once said, "Everyone who is taken by death asks for more time, while everyone who still has time makes excuses for procrastination.”
So many times we are tempted to push things to tomorrow. How often do we wonder, however, if there’s going to be a tomorrow? 
Or if we’re lucky enough to make it to old age inshaAllah, do we want to be among those who end up regretting a lifetime of not seizing opportunities as they came our way, those who are scratching their heads wondering, “What If?
Life was never meant to be put on hold. It was meant to be cherished. There’s a big difference between living and simply being alive.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "A servant of God will remain standing on the Day of Judgment until he is questioned about his (time on earth) and how he used it; about his knowledge and how he utilized it; about his wealth and from where he acquired it and in what (activities) he spent it; and about his body and how he used it." 
When you think about all the time we waste, its a scary thought, isn’t it? But subhanAllah, Allah would never test us with a challenge that we wouldn’t be able to handle. Its matter of realizing where we’re going wrong and making a change before it’s too late.
Being busy is a blessing, not a curse. It gives us a chance to fully live every moment of our life, because time, unlike anything else precious in the world, cannot be bought back with anything.
When I hear somebody sigh, "Life is hard," I am always tempted to ask, "Compared to what?" Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you really are. Things go wrong so we can appreciate them when they’re right. Good things sometimes fall apart so better ones can fall together. It’s the divine scheme of things that makes living so absolutely invigorating. 
I felt a smile creeping upon my lips as I watched the elevator doors starting to close. There was only one word left on my mind:
Sarah Kassem
University of Florida
Muslim Youth for Truth Co-Founder