There was a limo service awaiting my arrival at O'Hare International Airport. The driver was a Muslim, and greeted me with salaam; a welcome introduction given my tainted images of the United States. As large a city as Chicago is, he knew some of the people I knew, and we had a friendly discussion the whole way. I was extremely tired, and somewhat frustrated by the delays caused by my cancelled flight, but I tried my best to be an active participant in the conversation. As we pulled up to the conference centre and I was stepping out of the vehicle, he requested a favour of me.
"You're travelling right now. Please pray for my child, he's quite sick."
I didn't pay enough attention to what he said, presumably because I was exhausted and also because I never quite expected to see him again. I paid him, and walked towards the conference centre.
I spent two weeks there, among an international contingent of colleagues. I was amazed at just how American the Americans were; they all seemed to live lives inspired by television shows, from the goofy but lovable class clown to the young and melodramatic "southern gal". I eventually got used to it, but it still bothered me how ignorant they were of the rest of the world. Even the Muslims among them were no different. One thought Ottawa was in Idaho; when I told him that there was a world outside the United States, he assumed I lived in Alaska. Another brother asked me this beautifully ignorant question:
"Why don't you just live in United States instead?"
I enjoyed answering this question, drawing on all the things that I love about Canada: the relaxed lifestyle, the polite people, the functional and tolerant multiculturalism, free healthcare, among other things. I also mentioned how I would feel guilty for paying taxes to such an incredibly inept, violent, and dangerous government. That was a moot point, he argued, as the majority of Americans don't support them. If the majority don't support them, I replied, then how can it be called democracy? He changed the subject.
On a quiet and rainy Sunday afternoon, I happened to take a stroll outside despite my lack of appropriate clothing to handle the rain. Waiting in front of the Welcome Center was the driver who brought me there a week earlier; he had come to drop off someone else. He greeted me with salaam, and asked how things were going. He reminded me about the ijtema that was taking place in Chicago that weekend; unfortunately, I had already missed most of it, as did he.
"I wasn't able to go myself," he said. "I've spent most of the weekend in the hospital. My child just passed away this morning."
I was stunned, having completely forgotten about his request a week earlier. Innalillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'oon, I muttered. From Allah we came, and to Him we will return. The child, an infant boy no more than three months old, was gone, and I had irresponsibly forgotten both him and his father in my prayers. I told the driver that I would pray for him, for his patience, and for Allah to compensate him greatly for his loss.
The news left a cloud over my travels for a while; the driver had become a friend, and I was saddened by his loss. He was a young man himself, only a year older than I, and had been married for just a little over a year. What struck me most about it was that in spite of his situation, he could not get any break from his job. Just a few hours after such a tragic loss, he was back in the car driving people from place to place. I'm certain that his passengers would often be rude and impatient, completely negligent of the fact that the driver was also a husband, a father, and a mourner.
Such is the nature of life, though. The demands don't stop for anything, and there is rarely a moment of respite for those who struggle to make ends meet. Such incidents remind me of how thankful I must be for all the blessings I have in life. I live a very easy life, and have seen little of adversity in my quarter century of experience.
"And then which of the favours of thy Lord will you deny?"