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A very dear old friend, David Ramse, a ‘lay’ person with strong religious convictions enough to make him a missionary; a scientist, teacher – sent me this picture taken in 1980 when he used to live in St. Lust on the Berbice River. David and Miriam had a house literally on the river with its feet in the water – a beautifully located structure which Miriam made into a lovely home. I was invited to visit them and spent a couple of days there, when David took this picture of me trying to resuscitate a young Toucan which had flown into the screen door.
When I sent this picture to my brother, he asked me, ‘Where did all those years go Jaan?’ He calls me Jaan – short for Bhaijaan.
Where did they go? 34 years as on date – 1980-2014 – and counting.
I recalled what we will say when we meet our Rabb and are asked, ‘How long did you stay on earth?’ We will reply, ‘A day or a part of a day.’ All our life – a day or part of a day – in the reckoning of time by the Creator of time Himself.
Mu’minoon 23: 112. He (Allah) will say: “What number of years did you stay on earth?” 113. They will say: “We stayed a day or part of a day. Ask of those who keep account.” 114. He (Allah) will say: “You stayed not but a little, if you had only known! 115. “Did you think that We had created you in play (without any purpose), and that you would not be brought back to Us?” 116. So Exalted be Allah, the True King, La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Rabb (Lord) of the Supreme Throne!
So what did this time give me? Memories – all lovely, positive, for which I am thankful.
Duas asked; some accepted, some not accepted for which I am even more thankful – now that I have the benefit of hindsight to be able to see why AllahY didn’t accept those prayers. A sense of being guided, protected and nurtured. Of being brought back from the straying path without being allowed to suffer its consequences. Of being given the time to ask forgiveness and repent and even more for the good sense to take advantage of that time and ask forgiveness. How can I do anything but be thankful? So what memories, what lessons?
1. Changed three jobs and learnt that happiness and job satisfaction is not in the job but inside myself.
2. Lived in four countries, cheek by jowl with people of tribes, races, manners, values, concerns and history completely different from my own and learnt how similar we are to all people, even though we are different.
3. Made friends – very deep and lasting friendships. Some I lost, to death, others to changes in lives. Learnt that the pain of parting is directly proportional to the depth of relationship. We pay for one with the other.
4. Shared times, anxieties, dangers, hopes, happiness, grief and simply time with people on three continents and learned that our hearts beat to a rhythm that has nothing to do with the shape of our nose, the color of our skin or what we believe in.
5. Shared thoughts, ideas, learning and sometimes a sunset or sunrise and learnt that the person I shared it with was more important than what I shared and that he/she enhanced that experience and was the reason I remembered it at all.
6. Struggled for many goals. Some I achieved and some I didn’t. On the average my batting average has been far more positive than negative and I learnt that success depends on the color of our dreams, not on the color of our hair.
7. Shared food, clothing, smiles and sometimes tears with many and learnt that it is possible to share both grief and happiness and strangely it decreases one and enhances the other.
8. Shared silence and understood that companionship is not chattering like an insane magpie but like a pair of Golden Eagles, in sitting silently on a high mountain crag contemplating the world at your feet. Learnt that the best companions are those with whom a conversation is not a necessity. Learnt that telepathy is not fantasy. It happens. And it is fun.
9. Built a consulting company with clients on three continents. Acquired property. Made profit. Sometimes loss. Learnt that the joy of hard work is more than the joy of achieving success easily. It is the danger, uncertainty and stacked deck which adds the spice of excitement to the win. Excitement is fear that anticipates a happy ending and both pump adrenalin into the system.
10. Ate dry bread, curds and pickle with poor villagers and listened to their dreams which to me were the stuff of normal life, taken for granted. Learnt the great secret of happiness, that it lies in the smile of another, whose dream you helped to come true. Learnt that courage is not expressed in the magnitude of the challenge but in the perspective from which it is viewed – for how difficult something appears is relative to where you stand. Learnt also that current circumstances don’t decide if you will succeed or fail, but only where you need to start. Learnt lastly that nobody ever knows the best that he can do – and still learning.
11. Spent time with myself, with real friends and with crowds and learnt that being comfortable with yourself is the most important thing. That companionship is a factor of respect which nurtures love. That loneliness is not the result of the absence of people but the absence of a particular person.
12. Slept under the canopy in the Amazonian rain forest, under the stars in the Arabian desert, beside a lake in a high mountain valley in the Himalayas and in a dry riverbed in the Aravallies. Learnt that sleep is a factor of peace of mind which comes from a clear conscience which in turn comes from never harming anyone knowingly. When we wish good or evil for another, we will it for ourselves.
13. Listened to many conversations. Participated in a few. Learnt that hatred is fire and its result is always ash. Learnt that it is possible for us to look for people’s faults or strengths and that we always find what we seek. The rest is its result. Learnt that being positive may be difficult in some situations but in those it is even more important if you want to get out of them. Negative thinking is quicksand; the more time you spend in it, the deeper you sink.
14. Through successes, failures, happiness, grief, beauty, ugliness; through anxiety and safety, through hunger and plenty; I learnt to recognize the hand of my Lord – to see, accept and look forward to His plan for me.
15. I learnt to recognize His Majesty, Mercy and Grace and to ask for His indulgence and forgiveness. I learnt to see His art in the forms that He created and to ask in great wonder and joy, ‘Why?’ The more I learnt, the more I marveled, the more I rejoiced, the closer I feel to Him and the more I desire to meet Him.
Thirty four years have gone by – all memories triggered by one photograph. It is highly unlikely that there are another thirty four to go. But then will begin a life that has no end.
So final set of points to remind myself are:
1. What more could I have done in these years?
2. What did I earn that will benefit me in the life that will not end?
3. What have I earned that I can present to the One to Whom is my return?
And most importantly – more important than all of the above – what can I do, starting right now?
For in the end we will be judged not by what happened but by what we decided to do about it.