That’s a picture I took flying over South Africa. The patterns of fields is a factor of the ariel view. Perspective is a factor of distance. And so is learning in life. That’s why documenting incidents, reflecting on them and trying to conceptualize learnings is so important. So is sharing. And that’s why this blog. To share what I learned with you. Why? Why not?
As I mentioned earlier, the funny title of this blog (and the book) is the date on which I was fifty-five years old. I don’t believe birthdays are things to ‘celebrate,’ cut cakes, blow out candles, or have parties. Being alive is not my doing, so what is there to celebrate? Rather, birthdays are an opportunity to reflect on what we did with the time that passed, to be thankful for the good, to be aware of the mistakes, to ask what we learned, to ponder over opportunities we seized and let go, with the intention to learn from mistakes, leverage wins, and add value to the life that begins on that date. The past is only good as a means of learning lessons, not to brood or gloat over. It is past and done with. However, it can teach us things if we are willing to learn. And it will repeat if we don’t learn until we do. So birthdays are reminders to reflect. Birthdays are also reminders that our life will end; there will be a year when you won’t be alive on your birthday. If only people understand the symbolism – blowing out the candles – and then strangely people clap and laugh, instead of recognizing the symbolism of the extinguishing flame.
So what did I learn in fifty-five years of living? Let me see what I can recall.
They won’t remember what you did but they won’t forget
how you made them feel.
how you made them feel.
Perhaps the most important learning in half a century and a bit of life is to be thankful. First and foremost to Allahﷻ. I truly feel His presence and guidance in my life. Then to all those who were good to me in many different ways. They are too many to be named here but I remember them all with honor and gratitude and pray for them. Some have passed on, but their memory lives on in my heart. As my mother says, ‘People pass on, but memories stay back.’ I remind myself to be conscious of what memories I will leave behind when I pass on.
The Prophetﷺ said that the one who is not thankful to the people is not thankful to Allahﷻ. I learnt that it is essential not only to be thankful, but also to express that thankfulness. People need to hear from you how grateful you are. Even if they know that you are grateful, there is something about hearing it acknowledged which makes a huge difference, much more even than receiving a cash bonus or other material reward. People tend to take the reward as their due – which it is – but they give far more importance to the words. So simple and inexpensive, yet so powerful are the words – Thank You – yet we are so stingy in saying them. Thank You is the lever that moves the hearts of people and leaves behind memories. That’s why I say, ‘They won’t remember what you did, but they won’t forget how you made them feel.’ I’ve always made it a point to thank everyone for everything and have reaped the rewards all through my life.
Sadly, we take people for granted, especially the ones we deal with every day, who serve us, whose value we realize only when they are not there. I was once teaching a course in Chennai once to a group of engineers who were all Tamil Brahmins. In Tamil Brahmin homes there’s an invariable morning ritual – the lady of the house wakes up before anyone else, bathes, and then makes coffee (brilliant filter coffee from freshly ground beans) for all the men of the house, no matter how young or old. To make my point about expressing gratitude I asked them, ‘Do you enjoy the coffee in the morning?’
There was a chorus of ‘Yes Sir!’
Then I asked, ‘Would you miss it if it wasn’t there one day?’
Once again a chorus, ‘Yes Sir!’
Then I asked, ‘Did you ever thank your wife or your mother who makes that coffee for you every single day without fail?’
There was absolute silence and some very sheepish looks. I didn’t belabor the point any further as I thought my point had been made. At least they were honest and I hoped that my reminder would yield some good results. I didn’t think any more about this interjection and continued with my teaching.
The next morning one of the men came up to me and said, ‘Sir, my mother told me to thank you.’ I was surprised and said, ‘Well, thank her very much, but what did she want you to thank me for?’
He said, ‘Sir, last night I went home and thanked her for the coffee.’
Her reaction was, ‘Who told you to do this?’ I tried to say that I was doing this on my own, but she refused to believe me. ‘I know you,’ she said. ‘Someone told you to thank me. Who was that?’ I told her about your conversation with us. So she told me, ‘Go and thank your teacher on my behalf. I wish there were more like him.’
We take service for granted, be it from family or others. I learnt that it is essential never to take service for granted and always to thank people for doing anything for us.