March 21, 2008

There's good in everything

We don't usually have control of our lives. We dictate a portion of it through our efforts and perseverance, but life has a way of throwing curves which none of us can anticipate, and which can't always be handled. Athletes, for example, might dedicate their whole lives to their sport, investing every moment toward being the best they can be - and then a serious injury befalls them, and everything they fought for is lost. It only takes a second, and their lives are changed forever. And all they have left are the memories and the lessons.

I've always believed that everything happens for a reason. The good, the bad, and everything in between: all circumstances help shape the people we become, paving the path in our miraculous journey that begins at birth. Not only does everything happen for a reason, but there is good in all that happens. Many may not agree, of course, with that last statement. What good, they ask, can be found in the circumstances that have driven people to poverty, war, and overall misery? One would have to dig very deep to find any reason for optimism. I don't have an answer, but just keep reminding myself that with hardship comes ease. Verily, with hardship comes ease.

Of course, we often have to make the good out of the worst situations; it doesn't always come automatically. And when it does, it is not normally apparent at the time - only in retrospect do we realize why things unfolded as they did. In my own life, one of the best things to happen to me was the direct result of what seemed like the opposite of all my aspirations. A disappointing failure and poor decision-making on my behalf lead to the most important and most memorable period of my personal growth. Such is life.

In the last two weeks, two minor trials befell me. The good in the first incident became apparent only hours after the incident. But a day removed from the second incident, I am struggling to identify why things happened as they did. It all seemed like bad news at the time, and still does. Only with that confidence that there is good in everything am I relating this incident now, so that I may revisit it later and look back upon the unnecessary pessimism of my past self.

* * *

It began when returning to my apartment in Ottawa after a weekend visit in Montreal. Fifteen minutes after leaving my parent's home, my car starting shaking violently, possibly due to ice and snow clogging the exhaust port. Uncomfortable with the drive and only minutes past the bridge off the island, I turned back towards Montreal to switch cars with my mother.

I dropped off my own car at home, grabbed the keys to the old Volkswagen Golf, and headed back towards Ottawa. It was a pleasant journey in that little car, even though I've driven the Ottawa/Montreal stretch hundreds of times. All was well as I approached my apartment building nearly two hours later.

I arrived at my building, and turned into the parking lot to enter the parking garage, the massive door still open from a car just ahead of me. I advanced my car through the door, and BAM! The whole car shook, the heavy garage door having dropped right on the car. Normally, sensors would dictate that the door remain open when any cars are in the vicinity, but on this occasion, perhaps due to the heavy snowfall throughout the weekend, something didn't click. After parking and exiting the car, I realized that the door hit me much harder than I thought, and the bike rack above the Golf was knocked right off, left outside on the other side of the garage door.

At first, I was extremely annoyed that within two hours of borrowing my mom's car, I already got into something of an accident, with some minor damage. I realized after, however, that if it were fate that a garage door would drop on my car, it was much better that it fall on the Golf with the bike rack, rather than my Cavalier with it's naked roof. The damage would have been much worse, and could have even resulted in personal injury. The bike rack, there to insulate the blow, was a blessing. Those minor car problems I encountered in my own car, forcing me to turn back and switch, may have helped me avoid a much bigger problem later on.

* * *

And two short weeks later, I was to return to Montreal. A long weekend, and an important one for me. I left work early Thursday afternoon in order to get a head start on my drive back.

I prayed my Zuhr prayer in the local musalla, where I spoke with the imam for a short while. It turned out that he was on his way to Montreal himself shortly, with a flight to catch to Bangladesh later that evening. He was scheduled to take the bus before 5pm, though he worried about having to pray his 'Asr prayer on the bus or at the bus station. He was reluctant to combine prayers when he didn't feel it was necessary to do so, so we decided to travel together in the newly rackless Golf. It was better for me as well, as I get terribly bored driving that 417 alone; all we needed to do was stop off at the Greyhound station to exchange the first segment of his Ottawa/Montreal Return ticket for a 25% refund, and we would be off.

We arrived at the bus station, which was busier than I had ever seen it in all the years I used to commute. I parked the car, while the imam waited in line to return his ticket. Fortunately for me, the spot I parked in happened to have 25 minutes left on the meter, so I thought I'd get out of the car and take a walk through the station. Bad idea. As the imam was approaching the end of the line, I returned to the car. Putting my keys in the ignition, I recited a quick prayer for travelling, and turned the key.

At least, I tried to.

The key wouldn't budge, no matter how hard I tried to turn it. I tried and tried, jiggling the key as much as I could, with no luck. The imam returned, sat down next to me with a smile, saying "challé": "let's go". "I have some bad news," I told him, as I continued my futile attempts at starting the car. He tried as well, to no avail.

It was almost 4:30pm by now, and after asking a number of friends and strangers if they had any ideas, we realized there was nothing we could do but send him back on the bus. He got back in line to buy a new one-way bus ticket to get back to Montreal, while I dropped to the back of the line for the bus itself, behind what seemed like over 200 people. The poor imam would not get a bus at 5pm, I was certain, given the rush at the station. So I waited for the bus with his luggage, while he waited in line to pay the full-fare, one-way ticket, which happened to be ineligible for student rates. After forking over the extra money, he returned to my place in line, and by 5:30pm, he was on a bus towards Montreal. Even if the bus sped down the highway with no traffic, he would be cutting it very close for his flight. Of course, he apologized profusely for all the trouble, though none of it was his fault. I realized, though, that if the roles had been reversed, I would be apologizing as well, in spite of having done nothing wrong per se.

I returned to my car, still stuck in the lot. My free 25 minutes was long gone, so I kept feeding the machine quarters until I had finally run out of both change and patience. The first few friends I called were unable to come and help, so I was waiting there alone. With no idea what do or what would happen in the next few hours, I considered calling my airline and cancelling my own flight that was scheduled for early the next day.

Finally, another friend arrived. Lucky for me, he was an owner of a new Jetta. The paperwork in his car included the new number for the Volkswagen roadside assistance number. I called, and after several levels of navigating the touchtone menu, I reached a customer service agent.

"I'm stuck in a parking lot of a bus station," I told them, "and my key won't turn. It was working just an hour ago, when I left to go to the bus station." I wanted to request a towtruck, thinking any attempts to start the car would be futile, as there seemed to be some significant mechanical problem. But as the agent explained what I should do, I figured I might as well entertain the suggestion.

"Press down on the break as hard as you can, while pushing the steering wheel to the right also as hard as you can", she said. "While doing this, try turning the key ... as hard as you can."

Like that would ever work, I thought. But I followed her instructions, the key not moving.. I kept pushing, and finally .. click, click, putt, putt, vroom - the car started! I couldn't believe it worked.

I thanked the Volkswagen agent and my friend, and decided that now, two hours after my planned departure, was no time to leave for Montreal; I would go home, pray, and leave later in the evening instead. I called the imam, who was still on the bus, to tell him that I made it out.

He was only half the distance to the airport, he told me. And he had his flight in just over an hour. He also lamented having to complete his prayer on the bus. There was little chance he would catch his flight. He told me, "everything happens for a reason; maybe this was a punishment for something, or it could be expiation for us. I was too tired to go to the mosque at fajr time this morning, so I prayed at home - maybe this was because of that." I have no idea. Maybe someday, I will look back on all this, and find some silver lining, but I felt no reason for optimism at the time.

I'm sitting on my own flight now, with no information as to whether the imam caught his flight. Perhaps this little test of patience was something I needed; perhaps I had become too confident with my extensive travel experience, and needed something to bring me back down to earth - both literally and figuratively. Maybe I needed that little challenge in order to prepare me for my own journey. Many would say it was all for naught; that sometimes, things just screw up, with no rhyme or reason, and there's simply nothing we can do about it.

Yet somehow, I know that all this happened for reason. And that there will be good in it, someday.


  1. Everything does happen for a reason. But when we try to search out these reasons, that may not necessarily be a great idea. You'll just start getting paranoid every time something "bad" happens to you.

    We're always searching for a higher reason, some divine wisdom that'll help us make sense of our tests. Maybe comfort us when we're at very low points in our existence.

    But then, with hardship comes ease. It's like, Allah (swt) already knows we'll ask these questions, and we'll desperately want to climb out of our hardships, often pits we've dug for ourselves.

    And His statement is so simple: after hardship comes ease. He's telling us not to worry :) So, try as you may, but that's the one comfort each of us can rely on.

  2. Asmaa, thanks for the comment. You're right, we probably shouldn't search for the reason - it'll become apparent to us in due time.

    Not worrying is usually a good strategy though.

  3. Assalaamu'alaykum

    "Wonderous is the affair of the believer" so without a doubt we know there's good in everything, as you said, but the good may not necessarily be in this world wa Allahu'alim.

    To know the value of missing a flight, ask the person who missed a flight that ended up crashing.

    They say if you want to know the character of a person, travel with him/her because the general nature of travel requires patience...

    AlhamduliLlah 'ala kulli haal.