Words Nafeesa M.
Header Credits Umaima ben (@umaimasbeautifulmesses)
I accompanied an old man once. His back a curve, his eyes had intriguing shadows beneath, the story of his life etched in the lines on his forehead. His scars reminded me of those ancient stories carved on cave walls, depicting a remarkable era. If hard work and facing battles could be portrayed in one color, it was definitely the tanned tone of his skin. He was a portrait, a painting that would freeze me in front of it; I could stare at it, try to perceive each stroke, understand the painter’s message in every detail of all the hardships this person has seen. But the thing that struck me the most was his smile. It seemed like an earned reward, it had the essence of genuine inner peace. That smile hooked me. How can a person who faced so much in his life have a smile that content?
All my life I’ve spent in comfort, my parents made sure not to allow any discomfort, pain, or uneasiness find its way to me. I wore the most comfortable fabric, roamed around in shock resistant shoes, and had the control to moderate the temperatures around me. And if any pain dared to cross the borders, to pierce through, I had pain relievers, therapists at my fingertips. My life defined comfort and ease. Tears were only allowed in cases of extreme joy. And yet, the thing that frustrated me was that my smile could be nothing compared to that old man’s. His smile was a mock to me, ‘you eliminated pain from your life, and it deprived you of your joy’ it said.
The life of that old man reminded me of music. The soothing melody, that captivating power in its ups and downs, and that harmony in its beats and pauses. My life – it was just noise. I ran away from these pauses, these downs, and my ups turned into chaos. I realized the importance of the pain that I was deprived of.
The way to attend to pain resembles a fire alarm. We cannot take refuge in ear-plugs to avoid that sound, not installing one is equally dangerous, we cannot smash that alarm to get rid of it. Similarly, the pain of hunger is an alarm to take care of our bodies, to feed it. The wise thing is not to suppress it, rather understand its indication that our body needs attention to survive. Pain is what ensures that we stay alive and take care of ourselves. Our approach should be to thank it rather than running away from it.
Comparing my life with the old man’s – the long agonizing pain of waiting for a letter after months of missing a loved one strengthened their connection in a way that did not require physical contact, in a way that ‘100 messages in a minute’ could never meet. He lived by the discomfort of extreme delayed traveling, but was more patient than those able to reach places within minutes, honking all the way there. Even though today we have increased comfort and aim for a ‘constant happy life’, the need for therapies, painkillers, and rising depression has impacted 264 million until now. These pauses and delays, the tiredness and hard-work he has faced, has made his smile brighter and his joy merrier. I came to know how my ‘constant’ joy and ease itself turned into pain, the way eating my most favourite chocolate without stopping suddenly turned into severe disgust and displeasure. Receiving those letters with intervals is exactly like relishing a chocolate with vital breaks. Pain, when perceived in this manner, is not a threat that needs to be avoided, rather is a blessing to be embraced.
What the old man’s smile made me understand was also the fact that joy sometimes comes out of pain. Without that phase experiencing true joy is impossible. If we run away from tears, and their blurriness, the windshields of our eyes might never come out that clean.
The interesting fact about these pauses is that even though we refer to them as pain, the word used for pauses in Arabic is ‘sukun’, meaning peace. These pain pauses, when analyzed, are actually a source of peace and contentment from the chaotic life we live in. There will always be something in this pain that you will be able to appreciate. Like the pause of this pandemic, it highlighted the little things we were missing out on in our lives, of spending time with each other, of simply enjoying the moment without the need to rush.
Imagine you are a football player. You’re running tirelessly in the field, you’re unstoppable, there is nothing that can hinder you, you are in a kind of trance, and suddenly you twist your leg and fall, with a plunge of unbearable pain. Everything stops. Your focus and your entire energy is now directed towards that pain. There is a sudden pause in that continuous, constant, endless motion.
This conscious decision of taking a pause reminds us of that one beautiful pain that we are blessed with. The pain that makes us human beings, that makes us pause from our daily chaotic routines, and connect to the more vital things in life. The pain of Imam Hussain AS that truly is a source for our happiness, a pause that makes the melody of our life ever so beguiling.
I would like to request you to consider the beauty in this pause. The faint exquisiteness of this halt. To embrace it, see the joy in it, listen to its message, accept what it tries to teach us, make it our friend rather than running away from it, and know that pain is not a contrasting figure of joy, but rather a companion, a harbinger. Let us change our narratives from still or moving, pain or joy – towards still and moving, pain and joy, to enjoy the magical harmonious melody of life!