Deeper Questions

Someone mentioned to me, after a conference call with my American Halal Association cronies, that I was very quiet, and they were concerned enough to inquire why. Actually, I typically think of myself as rather quiet and introspective, but I do take the leadership role when necessary and if no one else steps up toward it. With Ramadan though, perhaps I have been more subdued than before because I have been pondering deeply, and I need to iron some things out in my head.

Often, I have these little dialogues by myself, silently in my private thoughts, but writing to the ether may yield answers…I hope.

A blog I read today struck my attention enough for me to post it on Twitter. David Warlick, who was keynote speaker at an educational technology conference I attended a couple years ago, posed the question and had four points to make about “What does it mean to be learned?”

It prompted me to parlay that logic into my own query, “How do I know if I lived?”

Allow me to explain. Ramadan often brings reminders about death–the inevitable experience that no one escapes—and while fasting, remembering one’s life, noting the differed energy levels, breaking from the usual routines, I take notice that one day my existence will cease. Even great monuments and people have passed before through the millennia, and there is no trace. The same will happen to me.

With that, I ask myself, “Then what was the meaning of my life?” And I am mindful that I have been given the catechism answer, “To worship God.” Which is all well and good, as I have dutifully acknowledged His gifts, creation, and mercy; and I have performed the ritual duties with honest intent. Yet, I feel that I missed something that I was meant to learn. Maybe it was something important that was to bring about a change in me?

This year I nearly lost some things very precious to me, and the future will result in losses of precious gifts. One of my sons was injured in a car accident, two pets have died, my family was rocked, my health and stamina were depleted, and a few friends and relatives have autoimmune diseases that I empathize with. Alhamdullilah, the feeling of crisis has subsided, but these incidents are reminders that all we are given will one day be retracted from our possession.

My sensitive heart has felt the pain; and out of curiosity, I’d asked my high school son, “Would you rather love and suffer the pains, or not have loved and have a run-of-the-mill life?” He has been keen to note that as a parent, I have ample concerns that emanate from who are my kids hanging out with, what time will they be home each night, how will they handle so many assignments, how can they afford to repair their vehicles, how will we keep up with their education and athletic expenses, etc. He knows that I worry because I care.

Yet, his answer was to love and feel the pain. I have influenced him apparently, because why else would one choose pain? What is it about suffering that deepens resolve? Why do mothers have to feel the pain of childbirth and both parents have these difficulties in child rearing? There must be some kind of gain from it. Does it bond us?

Marriage has its bumps in the road at times. Perhaps in successfully traversing that road and holding the commitment, we forge a stronger bond. I think that in Ramadan, when we feel the loss of energy, our days are disrupted, we stop taking things for granted. We resolve to do better when we can resume our normal routines, and we decide to make our actions count. We become deliberate in our choices.

So I think it goes with living. When our existence is threatened, we take stock and decide to do everything consciously, appreciatively, and I believe that we hold more dearly to our loves, our family, our sunsets. When we realize that they are all tentative, we relish them more deeply and know that the ultimate plan is to transfer into something else…hopefully greater. For there is no guarantee, only hope.

Live with pain as a compliment to what it offers us. Live with integrity and virtue.

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