Because it’s something that will reach us all, we’re encouraged to understand death, to learn about what awaits us in the afterlife, and to understand what that means for how we live our lives day to day. When someone has been called to return to Allah SWT, we are expected and obligated to attend funeral processions and give condolences to the loved ones they leave behind. But what lies beyond that? What impact does that have on us beyond an evening of passing out unsweetened coffee and dates?
After someone passes, every cliché and inspirational quote tells us we should reexamine our lives and decide to do things like live every day to the fullest and tell the people we love and care about how much they mean to us, but that’s not what actually happens. Let’s be real, here. Most of us recite Surat Al-Fatiha, post a few inspirational duaas and quotes on our social media pages, and then we go back to business as usual. Few of us can truly say that the death we see around us has the impact it’s supposed to have on how we conduct our lives afterwards – myself included.
Last week, I attended a funeral. As I looked around the room, what struck me most was seeing family members of the deceased, sitting on opposite sides of the room, not on speaking terms. The fact that these people were at a funeral, fulfilling the obligation God placed on us to attend and mourn the loss of another Muslim, yet, sitting apart from each other – something that is not acceptable to Him, is a sight that shakes me to my core. And I see it at almost every funeral I attend.
I will be the first to admit that, in the past, I’ve allowed grudges to stop me from being cordial with relatives or friends when I’ve seen them at weddings or funerals. Thankfully, I’ve since learned that not only is this a behavior that is despised by Allah SWT, but it is such a passive-aggressive method of dealing with people – it only makes things harder on myself and eats away at my mental strength bit by bit. To be able to maintain cordial, or even – dare I say, positive relationships with people we have problems with is a feat that is not widely achieved among humanity. And in today’s age of “selective respect,” the ability to do this is not a skill people even care much to develop. It’s unfortunate.
Every funeral makes me wonder why we’re always waiting.
In my particular situation, the death was something we all knew was coming. The deceased had been ill for a long time, requiring an operation on her heart that was not likely to be successful because of the elevated risk due to prior operations throughout her life. But, in the last few years, my extended family and family friends have suffered losses that were quite sudden and shocking. And being at those funerals caused my heart to feel like it was being squeezed tighter than I could bear.
Every funeral makes me wonder why we’re always waiting. Waiting to set goals. Waiting to pursue our dreams. Waiting to tell people we love them. And especially, waiting to forgive those who have wronged us and to seek forgiveness from the people we have wronged. We hold grudges for the most petty of actions – ones that truly, truly, TRULY don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Then, we build walls around ourselves and don’t let others in because we make “protecting” our hearts and minds the ultimate goal in life. And we refuse to let people tear down those walls – we don’t offer forgiveness, we don’t accept apologies, and we live by mantras like “No New Friends.” We assume that keeping people at bay will free us from struggle. And, apparently, a struggle-free life is the ultimate goal.
But the undeniable truth is that struggle is the place from which we grow, not the place wherein we remain forever. You don’t build mental strength without it. You can’t develop resilience without it. And you don’t become a better version of yourself by avoiding it all.
Dealing with people is part of the struggle. Think about it, if you can’t work through things with others, if you can’t show mercy and give forgiveness to people who hurt you, and if you’re unwilling to budge from your own position – even just to hear someone out, how can you rightfully expect those courtesies from others? What ever happened to reciprocity? For goodness sake, we have an endlessly merciful and forgiving Almighty God that we expect and expect from, but we refuse to show that same courtesy to His creation.
I know holding grudges is easy. And it’s safe. And it validates all of the feelings you have about these untrustworthy and awful people who did terrible things to you. I know this – because I’ve been there. I’ve been betrayed, lied to, manipulated, gossiped about, bullied, sub tweeted, had rumors and lies spread about me, had shade thrown at me, been criticized by people who don’t know my circumstances, etc., etc., etc.! And, as we all know, these things aren’t done by strangers (well, now they are, thanks to the Internet). But for the most part, they’ve been done by people we let in, people we didn’t feel the need to hide behind our walls from. And we had to decide: fight or flight, each with its own consequences. Thus. Is. Life. And life is hard.
Some people always tend to choose flight rather than fight. They end relationships prematurely because they believe the perfect spouse, partner, friend, sibling, etc., will come free of problems. For some reason, we associate good or perfect with struggle-free. And anything that expends too much of our effort and energy cannot possibly be of value or have a place in our lives. We think that a best friend who betrays us, a spouse who lies to us, or a cousin who spreads rumors about us, etc., cannot possibly be someone to keep in our lives because making these relationships work isn’t supposed to be so freaking hard. But that’s not true. Relationships are constant, 24/7, two-way streets of work and effort.
We can’t treat these situations like they’re unsolvable because in the end, the only thing that is unsolvable is death. Everything else can be worked through – starting with the willingness to try. That’s called “buy in.” And what more reason to buy into this than knowing that death can come to any of us, at any moment, and that the last thing any of us wants is to be standing there, staring at the gates of heaven, awaiting the forgiveness of someone we hurt or wronged. Or even worse (in my opinion), knowing that someone else is waiting for ours. Among the variety that occasionally keeps me up at night, this thought, in particular, pays its visits after funerals.
And I know everyone is free to make their own decisions regarding these matters, but seeing people hold onto old hurt, knowing that doing so is like continuously jabbing oneself in the chest, really makes me wonder what it’s all worth if people truly understand the meaning of “life is short.” We could all stand to reevaluate and determine what this truly means for our own lives with the hope that some of us will shed whatever it is that’s holding us back from living a truly peaceful and happy life.
If you’re wondering how to determine whether or not a situation is worth holding onto the poison that is a grudge, apply the rule of 5’s. Is this going to matter 5 minutes from now? 5 days from now? 5 months from now? 5 years from now? Then do an honest self-reflection about what actions you can take to resolve it because I can tell you from my experience as a social worker, these things don’t just go away or “work themselves out.” They linger and can have a lasting impact on future relationships regardless of how together you seem to have it on the outside. And as cliché as it sounds, life is both too long and too short to be tainted by this kind of bitterness.