I was in Chicago when I received a call regarding a project I was needed for in Vancouver. "Three months," they told me. Three months, including a rigorous three week development cycle. I protested early on that such a schedule was impractical, but I did my best regardless.
Only fifteen months and over 300,000 kilometres of travel later would I finally say farewell to the ocean and the mountains of the Pacific coast. It was a bittersweet feeling booking that last one-way flight back home. But Ramadhan was approaching, and I could not deal with another such month breaking my fast each night in the office with Tim Horton's and Subway, all alone or with a Jewish colleague.
It seemed fitting that my first Tarawih of the year was performed alone in an airport chapel. It summarized my whole year; out of my element, isolated, but comforting in a way, with only Allah to hear me.
I made intention early on to make the most of the coming Ramadhan, to make up for the sense of community I lost when navigating a difficult travel schedule. Every year, I would hear someone give a speech about how thankful we should be for meeting Ramadhan again each year; a wise reminder, no doubt, but somehow it never quite struck me how valuable this time really is.
I must have given that same speech myself dozens of times. Particularly, my final semester at the university saw me delivering the brief post-Maghrib lecture every day. Even speaking the words myself, perhaps they failed to touch my own heart the way such reminders should.
I was at the end of my studies, managing a full course load with a part-time job. I never got to know the wide-eyed first year students who sat patiently with us every day. Often, they would ask my friends and I about university culture, residence life, and other points of academia. And us grizzled veterans would respond, sharing our war stories and attempts at wisdom. Unfortunately, they were mere faces to me, without names, and once I graduated they became distant memories.
These three students may have been among those who sat with us, ate with us, and sought advice from us. They may have been amongst those who heard the same message I keep forgetting each year, that every Ramadhan is a blessing that should not be taken lightly. And perhaps they believed themselves that Ramadhan was only a few days away when they decided to go swimming at Gatineau Park, and perhaps they too had the intention to take better advantage of the approaching month.
But life itself is a gift that can be taken away from us at any time. Each moment may be our last, and each moment can make or break our hereafter. I didn't know the three students personally, but I almost certainly had seen them before. Final year Engineering students in their early twenties, they certainly faced many of the same experiences and challenges I did just a few years ago. But their lives were cut short; undoubtedly, someday we will all join them.
Looking at my own life, I realized that I had become complacent over the last few months, anticipating a Ramadhan in which I would be able to realign myself after a turbulent year. It never occurred to me that I may not have made it that far myself, that "waiting for Ramadhan" should never have been an option.
But by the mercy of Allah, here we are. We all need the solemn reminders that come with such incidents as described above, but we should also remember that this month should be shared, enjoyed, and celebrated with our families and friends. Our sense of community thrives in this month - let us take advantage of it. Enjoy it. And let us all take it upon ourselves to nourish this love and togetherness, such that it is sustained well beyond this blessed month.
May you and your families all have a blessed, productive, and enjoyable Ramadhan.
Rhyme-adan: I'm reposting this poem because it's silly enough to make me smile, while actually touching on some relevant points.