At the age of 34, you never expect that you will find yourself sitting in front of a doctor asking if you are going to die. Certainly not with a 16 week old baby on your lap.
Yet, there I was.
The kindly doctor had just told me that I had breast cancer and that it was bad.
“Am I going to die?” I asked.
“Not today or tomorrow,” she answered.
What an infuriating response! I thought how typical this was of medical people to be vague.
Death. The only certainty in this life yet we spend time and money trying to run away from it. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported as saying:
Remember the destroyer of pleasures – death. (At-Tirmidhi)
Yet I had failed to remember death and coming face to face with my mortality was quite a shock. I had plans. This wasn’t how I had expected my life to pan out. I expected to grow old, I needed to see my children grow up.
Yet none of that was guaranteed.
The life of this world is only the enjoyment of deception. (Quran 3:185)
We busy ourselves with our education, career, marriage, our social life, but often ignoring what the true measure of what success really is. Jumping from one life goal to the next, like stepping stones, counting our achievements but are we counting our blessings? Do we really understand that we aren’t here forever?
What had I prepared for the next life?
The Prophet Muhammad said:
The believer’s shade on the Day of Resurrection will be his charity. (At-Tirmidhi)
You don’t have to be wealthy to give in charity, it can be as little as a smile. However, if you think of your monthly payments for cable TV, your mobile phone or internet connection, then surely there’s something you could give in charity? You are investing in your Hereafter, your eternity, surely it’s worth a few dollars a month.
If you can’t give your money, give your time. Be kind to people. Volunteer at your masjid, help with teaching the kids at madrassah, visit older people who are feeling lonely. Every good deed is a reward that will witness for you on the Day of Judgment.
Reminder of Purpose
We don’t think about death, it’s still taboo in most cultures and often considered morbid. Yet, we need to remember death in order to focus on our purpose:
I did not create the jinns and mankind except to worship Me. (Quran 51:56)
In the days that followed my diagnosis, I was stricken with fear. Was I ready to meet with Allah? The answer was a clear “No!”
Had I worshiped my Lord adequately?
Yet there I was in dire need of Him. No one could help me, only Allah. Faced with the prospect of potentially dying, it became easy to obey Allah. My prayers became more punctual and heartfelt. I turned to the Quran, drinking in every word of comfort that my Lord had sent. And dua, so much dua.
It came as a rude awakening that as easily as life is given, it could be taken away. Allah had everything in His hand and it is only thanks to His Love and Mercy that we wake up fit and healthy to face another day. There can be no doubt that He is worthy of our worship.
After diagnosis, the world looked like a different place, it was as if my vision had sharpened. There is so much beauty if you take the time to notice it, not just in the most breath-taking natural settings, there is beauty even if you live in a suburban neighborhood like I do. Take time to notice the sunset, the moon and stars, kindness between people.
There is so much that we take for granted. Waking up in the morning in a warm, comfortable bed. Eating a healthy breakfast, enjoying a takeaway coffee and heading to work. Going to the supermarket and putting food in your trolley without much thought for availability or price. Bathing your children and putting them to bed, then checking on them later, watching them sleep in innocent bliss. This is a typical mundane routine, we think nothing of it, in fact, we even complain about it.
I learned to take great pleasure in the mundane, in the daily routine.
Alhamdulillah, thanks to Allah and thanks to the treatment I received, I beat cancer. Although it was a difficult time in my life, I am in the privileged position to be able to look back and appreciate what happened.
I have a rare insight, for someone of my age, into the fragility of health and the reality of death. I will continue to be regularly monitored to ensure that the disease does not make an unwelcome reappearance. But I will also continue to regularly monitor my focus in life by:
- Being mindful of Allah.
- Seeking forgiveness.
- Keeping the Hereafter in mind.
- Giving regular charity.
- Being grateful.
Don’t wait for calamity to strike before you make the necessary adjustments in your life.