Desertion of Death by the Dying

by Aqeela Naqvi

It’s as if you’re caught in a thickening fog, and no matter which way you turn you can’t find the way…the silence of the night mocks the abject thrumming of your heart in your ears. Suddenly you see in front of you the slow gliding of a hooded figure, and in your distress you call out “Please can you help me?” Before your echo has even penetrated the mist, the figure stops and begins to turn towards you. Instantly, you wish you could pull the words back into your mouth because as he lowers his hood, his eyes pierce you, and the yellowness of his gaze is a bloodcurdling scream silenced in the depths of your throat…

***

It’s easy to say ‘Patience is a virtue’ but until we’ve gone through an experience where we’ve needed to be patient, we find that we really don’t know what Virtue is. Maybe we need to redefine things for ourselves. Maybe we don’t know what things really mean. After all, when we see someone leave this world, we realize we don’t know what it means to “leave” either. When someone leaves us today, they aren’t really leaving us, are they? They’re changing location, they’re moving, they’re going somewhere we can follow with a few quick steps and call of their name. But when someone leaves us, I mean really leaves us, it’s the not-being-able-to-follow part that rips us apart. The not being able to trail behind that crushes our breath. The not being able to stand and watch the lightness of their step or the texture of the sun on their skin or the turning of their head as they look back and smile to us that Everything will be okay.

But for most of us who have not discovered that patience, no matter how many years we live, no matter what inventions we create that can reach the stars and the depths of the earth, there is one thing we cannot seem to change: the dictionary of our thoughts. When someone leaves us, we not only wish, but we expect to see them again. When someone dies, we are surprised, as if it is only just now that we’ve been introduced to death. We see death upon death, yet are still shocked for not being given warning. When we see the young die, we are heartbroken because young death is unexpected, a completely justifiable reaction. But in our honest minutes, when we pull the sheets from the thoughts in the attics of our minds, don’t we realize that no matter how old we get, death is never expected? When we lay on our deathbeds surrounded by grandchildren, don’t we still wonder how it came to this? When we draw that final breath, don’t we still ask, Isn’t there more time?

We are beings who are surrounded by miracles that take hold of our shoulders and scream in our ears Open your eyes! but no matter how much they shout and cry and implore us to for us to See, really see! the static of our minds is so loud it drowns them out. What kind of creatures are we who can see existence from nonexistence in birth, and the opposite happen in death; that are exposed to the line that wavers between both realms in sickness and can experience the new life that comes with new health; but are still unable to accept that one day, we, too will find our bodies in the earth?

The truth is, we wear blinders as we face the future, and that is why we feel ourselves to be constantly hoodwinked by death. We are unable to face that me, myself, and I will one day be nothing more than a carving on a gravestone. And so, instead, we focus on the people around us. How they will hurt, how they will pass. Our inherent and constant need to take care of the ones we love is what pains us when those same people travel to a land that is beyond our reach. And it’s not until we’ve felt so completely helpless, so laid bare in front of the universe, that we can know what patience truly is.

Patience is when, no matter how much you want to throw your tears at the sky and watch them burn holes through its fabric until there is nothing left but ash, when you want to rip the stars from where they seem to wink at your pain until the world is as empty as your arms, you understand and instead whisper gently to your heart, How can you begrudge a soul’s journey home? Beautiful patience. Sabr-un-Jameel. This world is never ours to leave because this is not where we belong. We have paused here for respite, travelers on a journey. We left another land long, long ago. Our death is not our leaving home…it is our return.

Surely we belong to God and to Him shall we return. (Holy Qur’an 2:156)

***

The fog slowly begins to clear and where once your mouth was frozen in terror you feel your lips form into a smile. The figure speaks to you, the low rumbling of his voice like soft thunder on a warm summer’s night. The heat sticks to your skin as you move towards him and respond, the scent of rain grazing against your face. As you take his hand you feel the patter of drops against your forehead and you watch in amazement as the pain is washed from your skin. Lightning flashes across the sky, and as you look at his face, he smiles. You release the breath you hadn’t realized you’d been holding, and, throwing back your head, laugh and laugh, that what you mistook for disaster in the yellow of his eyes was actually light, waiting to lead you Home.

***

(Please recite Surah Al-Fateha for our loved ones)

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