Thoughts on Eid Al-Adha here, “Ready Pilgrim One”.
Note: I badgered my son to write a poem for the last of our Ramadan Salons. I told him it needed to be inspired by Attar’s “Conference of the Birds”. Even though he grumbled and said, “Inspiration can’t be on-demand!”, he did write the following poem! Nothing like a deadline to inspire inspiration.
Quest for Guidance
by H. Rehman
Despair, anger and pains
These hardships, battles we fight
As faith and hope wane
still we search for the light.
We seek out leaders and kings
to tell us how to live.
We run in endless loops and rings
to this cycle we are captive.
Our quests are fruitless
Our guide; an illusion.
We stumble blindly in darkness
stranded in a bleak ocean.
But some rise above,
They need not search any longer.
They have no hate,
Their hearts are stronger.
They need no king because
they are the king.
They are their own
leader and mentor.
Their own songs they sing
for one’s guide is one’s center.
When you look for direction
Don’t look to others, try
Used with permission of HR, from his 8th grade literature class. Note: he got full marks for the story, but I have taken the liberty of correcting his grammar mistakes.
Darwin looked at the spring rain falling outside of the train window. It had been raining nonstop since three in the morning; the sidewalk was wet before Darwin got on the train. He stared at the rain with a feeling of awe and wonder, almost mesmerized by the wat the tiny droplets were falling and hitting the side of the window, making paths of water as they flowed. He knew it was just water condensing in the clouds and falling down, but there was something strange about it, something not quite right. It was as if the rain was somehow more than just water, as if it had some other spirit of some kind in it, something supernatural. Darwin dismissed this. He was a man of science after all, and he only believed what he could see or be proven in a laboratory.
His gaze left the weather outside and wandered around the other commuters in the train. Darwin had seen many of them on the train before, but he noticed one man had a chain necklace around his neck. Upon further inspection, he saw there was a cross on the end of it. Must be religious, he thought to himself. Darwin had seen the man several times on the train, but never really noticed him. As he thought about it, he must have seen the man almost every day. Darwin observed the man, assessing him. The presumed religious man was about 30 or 40, had black hair, fair skin, and a clean-shaven face. He was wearing a suit and tie, but his clothes weren’t expensive, and the only other jewelry he had on was a ring on his ring-finger, probably a wedding ring and an almost fancy watch he was adjusting. But the one thing that struck Darwin the most was the cross. Most of his friends were either atheists like him, or some kind of agnostic who didn’t really care about God either way. Being most intrigued, he decided to approach the man.
“Hello,” he said to the man.
“Oh, hello,” the man responded as he looked up from his watch.
“Can I help you?” The man inquired.
“Well, I couldn’t help but notice the cross hanging from your neck, and was wondering whether you were very religious.”
“Oh this?” He looked down at his chain. “Well, yes, I guess I am a bit religious.”
I knew it, thought Darwin. “That is pretty interesting because I don’t really know many religious people.”
“You’re an atheist?” asked the man in an almost inquiring tone.
“Why yes, yes I am.”
“Well, you may be the first atheist I have met. I’m Joseph. Pleased to meet you.”
They shook hands. Darwin noticed the station and saw his was coming up soon.
“Well, Joseph, this is my stop. It was a pleasure to meet you. I assume you will be here tomorrow?”
“I would hope so,” said Joseph as Darwin alighted the train, heading to his university job.
The next day Darwin walked to the station wondering what he would say to Joseph. He had a couple questions and decided to deploy them when he saw Joseph on the train. The train arrived, a minute late as usual, and Darwin scanned the cars for Joseph. He spotted him standing and approached him.
“Joseph, how do you do?”
“Fine, and you?”
“Fine, fine, but anyways I was wondering are you Protestant or Catholic?”
“Oh, okay…so you feel that if you just confess your sins to a priest you’re like, good to go to Heaven?”
Joseph chuckled lightly and replied, “Well, I believe that if you have the strength to admit that you did something wrong and can accept it, then God will forgive you.”
“That would be completely okay with no…heavenly penalties? But what if say, a man murdered a person and then confessed it.”
“Well, it depends. If he thinks that he can get away with murder just by confessing, then it doesn’t really work. However, if he murders someone, but realizes what he has done is wrong and asks forgiveness and repents, the God will forgive him.”
“Oh, I see,” Darwin pondered for a minute. “Do you believe in creationism or evolution?”
Joseph looked as if he was formulating an answer and replied after a moment, “Well, both.”
“Well, I believe that God created all creatures and animals, it was just very slow.”
“Well, what if God created humans by creating bacteria first and then slowly morphing them into humans over thousands of years. God is so powerful, a million years to us might be an hour to Him.”
“I suppose that’s one way of thinking about it. Oh my, my stop is almost up again.”
“Until tomorrow, Darwin.”
“Until then, Joseph,” he replied.
They continued meeting like this on the train for several months and usually discussing religion. They mostly debated God, the Church, faith, and other such topics. Darwin, while being very knowledgeable about physics and the properties of nature, had very little knowledge of religion as a whole. His parents had been atheists and his grade school classmates rarely discussed religion with him if at all. He was very curious about Joseph’s beliefs. However, once Darwin had learned the basis for many of Joseph’s ideas, he had debates with Joseph about said beliefs. They were almost always on opposite sides when arguing, but they never got mad with each other. It was as if they both felt the other person was wrong, but still respected him for making logical arguments. Darwin sometimes would spend hours researching the topic they discussed so he could make a logical rebuttal. On some commutes, instead of arguing, they discussed nature- clouds, rainforests. Sometimes they just gazed silently upon the lake, glistening in the distance.
After he began meeting with Joseph, Darwin started taking more walks. He spent more time admiring the little things in life. Seeing a newly bud crocus poking through the snow could make Darwin happy. Darwin learned through Joseph that you didn’t have to believe in God to see the beauty of the world.
One day, Darwin found out that Joseph ran a charity organization. Darwin was surprised by this and inquired. “Charity organization? What make you so interested in that?”
“Well, responded Joseph, “ever since I was a child, my father would take me to our local church on Sundays. After prayer, we would always light a candle. My father told me the candle was just something extra we could to do to help those out in need. I always felt special whenever he let me light it. His mindset was that the best life one could lead is that of helping others. It really influenced me, I guess.”
“How does fire make someone else’s life better?”
“Well, it isn’t the fire itself, but more so that it represents hope that others have the ability to improve their conditions and will do so.”
“Do you still light a candle every Sunday?”
“I have since I was a boy,” he said, appearing to reminisce upon his days of youth as Darwin exited the car onto the concrete below.
Darwin thought about what Joseph had mentioned. Maybe some objects are more than just what they seem, and maybe something as arbitrary as a flame in a church could impact the world. Darwin dismissed these thoughts as irrational as he walked up the university steps.
Darwin had spent almost an hour in the morning thinking about the candle. It was both puzzling and intriguing to him. He didn’t know why, but this single tradition stood out from all the other events he thought were illogical. He imagined Joseph as a child walking into church and lighting the candle with his father watching behind him. Darwin saw the flame flickering and wavering every time even the smallest of gusts of wind blew past it. The candle was slowly melting and shrinking, as the candle burned brightly atop its wax throne, a beacon of comfort and warmth. He felt he needed to discuss this with Joseph and tell him about it.
Once Darwin stepped onto the train he looked around for Joseph. Darwin didn’t see him where he usually stood. He looked around the whole car. No sign of Joseph. He began to look in other cars, but still could not see him. Darwin finally had to get off at his stop, Joseph no where in sight. Darwin worried throughout the day. His hand shook so much he almost dropped one of the chemicals in his lab. He is probably just sick, thought Darwin on his way home. Maybe he went on vacation and forgot to tell me. I should call him and see if there is a voice message or something. Darwin reached for his phone, but stopped as he realized he didn’t know Joseph’s phone number. Darwin didn’t know his address, his email, not even his last name. Darwin sat on his bed in despair as he realized he had no way of contacting his friend.
The next day, Joseph still wasn’t on the train. Or the next day. In fact, it had been almost a week with no sign of Joseph. Darwin picked up the newspaper before he walked into work, hoping to find something to take his mind off Joseph. His schedule was so busy he didn’t read it until he was back in his apartment. He idly flipped through the pages, seeing nothing interesting. He flipped back to one page that caught his eye. It was Joseph’s face. Frantically he looked at what section it was in. He almost dropped the paper as his eyes fell on the word “Obituaries”. Darwin read the short paragraph titled, “Charity Owner, Joseph White, dies at 38”.
Joseph White was killed in a car accident early on Wednesday morning. He had a wife, no children and was owner of the charity, Feed the Poor. Early this year, he donated over…
Darwin stopped reading and put down the newspaper. He looked out the window, a sudden feeling of sorrow replaced his worry. He picked up the phone and told his boss he couldn’t make it to work. Darwin looked back at the newspaper to see if there was a number to call Joseph’s wife. He saw it and dialed the number. The other side picked up and asked, “Hello?” in a feminine voice.
“Hello, you are Joseph’s wife, I presume?”
“Yes. Speaking.” She sounded like she had just been crying.
“My name is Darwin. I don’t know if your husband told you about me.”
“Oh, you must be Darwin…from the train.”
“I suppose I am. Well, I wanted to give my condolences for Joseph. He was a good man.”
“Also, by chance, you wouldn’t happen to know which church Joseph went to, do you?”
“He went to the one off of 67th and Central,” she answered, sounding a bit confused.
“Okay, thanks. And I really am sorry for your loss.”
“Thank you, goodbye,” she replied in a quiet voice, about to burst into tears.
He hung up.
Father John looked over the pews as the patrons of the church prayed or wandered. Prayers had just ended and people were leaving the church, going to their homes, breakfasts, or other places. Father John noticed one person he had seen come once every Sunday. He thought he had seen the man last Sunday do the exact thing he was doing right now. The man walked over to the candles. The priest watched as the man lit a single candle, whispered something, and walked away.
“Excuse me, sir,” said the Father in an inquiring tone.
“Yes?” answered the man.
“I see you come here every day. You always light just one candle. May I ask what it is for?”
“I guess you could say it’s for a friend.”
“Is he ill?”
“It’s a bit worse than that.”
“Oh, I see…Say, what is your name?” requested Father John as the man was about to leave.
“Darwin,” replied the man while walking out the doors.
-By Guestblogger B4 Awesomeness
(Yes, his teacher gave him an A.)
Spring or Winter, make up your mind.
I want to leave this weather behind.
No snow, no rain
it causes me pain
To whoever has weather powers:
I just want some spring flowers.