The Compassionate, The Merciful

10 07 2011

As a Muslim, I utter the words, “In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful,” somewhere between 17 and 30 times a day. In each prayer and with the beginning of every act. I call upon Him using these two attributes: Compassion and Mercy. I am encouraged to take on a bit of Allah’s attributes if I want to taste them in myself. For example, if I want to receive His Mercy, then I should be merciful towards others. If I want Him to be Compassionate towards me, then I should be compassionate towards others, and so on . . .

These were my thoughts as I was blankly staring at the world from behind my steering wheel, wishing I could get out of my skin. These were my thoughts as I was stuck for ten minutes in one intersection amidst the heavy traffic on my miserable street. These were my thoughts as I made no effort to hide my distressed face from the passersby who hurriedly glanced in my direction and hurled themselves at my car, to get on with their hurried, important lives. They didn’t seem to have any thoughts. Frowing faces. Rigid faces. Tired faces. No thoughts. These were my thoughts as I continued to say quietly and with as much calm as I could muster, “In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful,” trying to control my terror over my car being crushed in this jungle of hostile micro- and mini-bus drivers, pedestrians and street vendors. These were my thoughts as a young man gestured to me, asking me to let his friend’s microbus pass before me. I declined. He persisted and increased his dose of smile; he was a good-looking young man. He must have been trying to embarrass me, seeing that I am woman, veiled, alone in my car. He must have thought I would be intimidated, shy, embarrassed. I increased my dose of serious face and gestured, “Sorry. No can do.” It’s not that I didn’t want to let him pass. I would have gladly waited, but I would have also been crushed into oblivion. He gave in. I passed through, without a smile as he waved me goodbye. These were my thoughts as I wondered how many hours and how much money I was going to spend today to try make myself feel better, knowing in advance that it would be to no avail, knowing in advance, that in the evening, on my drive back home, those same tears would be there. These were my thoughts, exacerbated, the latter by the former. These were my thoughts as I could feel a deep pang of darkness and pain in me. These were my thoughts as I listened to the soft sad voice, a song about mercy and compassion towards Prophet Mohamed and his suffering.

These were my thoughts and those were my tears, racing.

How is it that I am having such a hard time with Compassion in spite of this? How am I unable to feel it, to live it? How am I unable to be compassionate towards me, which logically means I am unable to be that towards others?

I pull over to pick up my friend who has brought her little boy along. The bright-faced little boy has a small ball and a tiny plastic racket – a prospective professional tennis/ping-pong player. He rackets the ball around in the back seat of the car, hitting the roof and making all kinds of obnoxious noises. He sticks his shoed feet here and there on the new light gray interior of my car. I am enraged. I hold it in. He speaks loudly, interrupting our conversation. I am unable to speak with my friend coherently nor hear her clearly. I am annoyed galore. “Somebody needs to quiet him down. I knew this was a mistake from the start, before I left the house. I am in no mood to see anyone today. This business of dragging myself out of the house when I don’t feel like it is simply stupid. Somebody quiet this dude down before I lose my temper.”

“He’s just a little boy. He’s alone back there, looking for something to busy himself with. You’ve got your friend to talk to and you’re both sharing your minds; he’s got no friend his age here. He’s just a little boy,” says the budding, compassionate me.

And so the rest of the evening was. I spent most of the time observing the boy, condemning his loudness, his rudeness, his lack of manners, his spoiltness and (need I continue?). Then, after every thought, I could feel myself getting worked up and tense. Then, the not-well-practiced and stumbling compassionate me would go back and say, “He’s just a little boy. He’s very decent. You can’t expect him to control himself like you can. He’s got a lot to learn and he will grown up to be a decent man.”

“A decent man. . . . I wonder if he will grow up to show mercy and compassion to others, especially to the women in his life in this male-dominated society. I wonder if he will show mercy and compassion to his single mother who will stop at nothing to make him happy, or will he be another version of his father – authority unquestioned, abuse. He will show compassion, I hope.”

It’s late morning and I have work to attend to. I have smiling naïve little girls to go teach. I worry that I will infect them with my darkness and lethargy. I don’t feel like going. I knew, as I made the call last night confirming the appointment, that I would not feel like going this morning. Yet, I made it anyway, in an effort to “help myself” and not let myself fall prey to harmful behaviors.

I wonder, “Have I forgotten to take my meds, again? Is that why I am off-base today?” I search and delve. I dig deep. Nothing. It’s just me.

This must be the time, then, to be compassionate towards me, to show understanding. To mentally hug myself and say, “You’re okay. It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”

So, I begin another day:

“In the name of Allah, The Compassionate, The Merciful.

Allah, help me find compassion.

Show me how to forgive myself.

Allah, hold my hand today.”

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