May 20, 2009
On death, compassion, and things better left unsaid…
This post might make me seem heartless and cruel. Speaking about death usually makes me sound heartless and cruel, but it could have to do with my upbringing and how somehow I learned in the process that death is something we don’t talk about, it is something we should rather learn to deal with and accept, eventually. I understand it is only true as far as I am concerned and that it does not apply to other people.
Some relatively long time ago, when my nana died (Allah yer7amha), I didn’t cry because I thought it was better for her to pass away rather than live an non-dignifying life with the paralysis that left her unable to move or speak or even recognize any of us at some point. She was a strong woman who deserved to die with her pride and dignity intact, or so I believed.
Around a year after her death, my uncle (who had just turned rather a bit more religious) was talking to me about someone’s death, I don’t remember who exactly, but I remember saying that a short death is much better than a prolonged one. My uncle argued that the prolonged death is sometimes better for the person because it’s a way for them to repent and pray for Allah swt, as well as it is for those around them to earn thawab for taking care of them. He said I was blinded by my pride and life-related calculations, while the bigger picture is about humility, thawab and takfeer zonoob!
That was when I mourned my late nana (Allah yer7amha). That was when I kept praying that the suffering before her death was counted for more thawab and that all her zonoob were repented already. That was when I found myself wishing she had more humiliation in life for the sake of a better eternity. Oh well.
Still until now, death baffles me. it shocks me beyond my ability to cry and it paralyses my tongue from saying the right prayers for the people I know are dear to my heart.
Uncle A died around three years ago, I cried from the shock even though I knew he was terribly sick. I cried his loss; that such a good person was taken from such a horrible life leaving it one good person less, until I went to his wake. Seeing how strong his family was holding up, seeing how peaceful things were where he had once been, it made the peace seep through my soul. And later, I had a very good dream of him, a dream that meant a lot as my mom told me later. May he rest in peace.
Last month when Dr. Magdi died, I was shaken so hard. It was probably the shock of losing him so suddenly and unexpectedly, especially at a time when I relied on him to feel better about all that was going wrong in my life. I cried so hard -to my own surprise- over someone whom I barely knew, yet had such a positive impact on my life. I didn’t want to stop crying over him because it was the only way I could hold on to his memory; until I realized that I had special memories of him to hold on to, things I needed to remember for my own well being. And so I let him go with my prayers.
Two days ago when S passed away, it was another anticipated tragedy. She was badly sick and I knew she was dying after 5 years of fighting cancer that kept re-attacking more viciously one time after the other. I tried to use my previously learned lesson about death to not collapse or cry, I tried to find the right prayers for her, but I just couldn’t. Tears just fell silently without any control when I pictured her walking around us like she always did, right there while I was at her wake. I kept murmuring “Allah yer7amha” and I kept thinking of how amazing she was, and it made me smile even through the tears. Her strength will be missed, but her beautiful spirit will always be there in my head reminding me of all the things she used to tell me.
It could be that I lost a few good people whom I mourn on daily basis as little things in life remind me of them or when their memory just lingers in my heart. But hearing about the president’s grandson dying didn’t get to me at first. It may make me seem heartless like I mentioned, but when you had just lost an idol to death, hearing that someone you simply do not like had lost someone dear to him doesn’t touch you, you find your angry self (at death, life and all the people in it) murmuring “so what, people lose loved ones every day and they hurt and ache and their lives are forever scarred that way”.
No, I didn’t instantly feel any sympathy because in my head that man never had any sympathy for the pain people go through on daily basis; pain I can almost taste when I deal with people until I forget about it once I go by with my own daily concerns. Not to mention the agony and fear caused by the injustice and abuse that you hear of happening to othe people and thank God on daily basis that it is not yet your turn to be that kind of victim and fear the day when you will be.
Until I saw the photo, a family photo one of my FB friends posted with the little kid, the father, the uncle, and the grandparents. It completely changed how my heart felt and I instantly found myself aching. I couldn’t see people I didn’t know or care for; I saw my own son, and my parents surrounding him with their happy faces and I felt my heart clenching had it been my boy who was taken.
And that is compassion, the kind of compassion you feel without any control, the kind of compassion that makes you human, it makes you able to sympathize with people for whom you would normally feel no sympathy. The kind of compassion that makes you feel for people for their own loss rather than refrain from feeling because you’re judging them for their actions that you condone.
But like death, compassion is not something you should talk about, at least not in my book. You don’t walk around parading those human feeling you have just like you don’t walk around parading the tears you cried over a loved one lost to death. You say those things with a low tone of voice because they are supposed to come from the heart and they are not supposed to be for show; they lose their meaning that way.
So watching the Amr Adeeb segment on u-tube, the one with him urging the people to support the grieving family and reminding them of all the good that family did and make it sound like the people owed them that compassion, it made me angry. Sorry, but he was more like beating compassion out of them. Compassion is not something you feel because you’re asked to, and you never feel it out of gratitude, especially if gratitude is barely due!
To me, it sounded like nothing short of a cheap attempt to suck up by using a painful tragedy; if not, then it was just plain rude and insensitive, to all people including the president and his family; because if I were them, I wouldn’t like someone to beg others to feel sorry for my loss and support me.
I was not going to comment about that, or the tragedy of losing a grandchild for that matter out of my respect to the tragedy itself, and out of my own belief that such things are rather private.
Until I was provoked by reading an email a guy on the cultural group I’m in sent as a letter to the mourning grandfather. That letter reeked with pretense and lacks substance, and who the hell is that person and who died an made him in charge for him to say “Mr. President, I address you today not on behalf of the people but on behalf of myself, not as a citizen but as a human being…”! Speak for yourself man, and don’t trivialize other people’s feelings by implying that your words are good enough for them, especially when those words are not even proof-read!
Sometimes “el baqa2 l’Ellah” and “enna l’Ellah wa enna elayhi rage3oon” is much more eloquent than big phrases that give compassion a bad name.