How Can We Live?

How Can We Live? August 27, 2013
Photo Credit: Reuters

The news of the unrest and violence in Egypt is inescapable. Much of the it has unfolded in full view of video cameras. I have seen bodies piled in the mosques, I have seen a woman in niqab shot to death by a sniper, I have seen grown men weeping over the bodies of their fallen sons. It is a tragedy on every level and it seems to be something that will not be resolved soon.

A friend of mine asked today how one can cope with life in the face of such tragedy. Let’s not forget, Egypt is only the most visible site of death and destruction in a world that is teeming with violence. There is the mundane, everyday violence of wife-beating and child abuse, and the more “structured” violence of armed conflict in Syria and Egypt. Boko Haram is killing fellow Muslims in Nigeria; Indians in Kashmir are ramping up the conflict there. Sudan’s violence is generational, and Iraq and Afghanistan are still as lawless as they’ve been for the last decade.

How do we cope? How do I, a suburban wife and mom living a frugal yet comfortable life in a big house in Virginia, whose most momentous decision is “paper or plastic”, balance the need to lead a life of sanity with my duty towards my fellow human beings?

How can I laugh when a bereaved mother in Cairo is crying? How can I put food in my mouth when children in Syria are forced to drink water from the gutter and eat moldy bread? How can I shop for my kids’ school clothing when a child in Sudan has only one torn shirt to wear? How do I? How dare I?

Honestly, I don’t know what the right balance is, or if I have it. But I cannot stay “plugged in” to the tumult around the world 24/7 and maintain my sanity. I can’t. Imagine that you felt every pain of every person in the world, like Obi Wan Kenobi when he felt a “great disturbance in the force” after the destruction of Alderan. You’d be paralyzed by grief and pain. Our minds and bodies are not meant to cope with a constant influx of horror and death. We become inured to it, our emotions blunted, our minds overwhelmed. So we have to unplug, tune out, and give up the grief of the world in order to be able to live our lives and do justice to our own loved ones.

You do what you can. If you can empty out extra clothing in your closet for a women’s shelter, donate some of your kids’ clothing to an orphanage, buy school supplies for a poor child, give money for a milk cow, pay for the housekeeper for an elderly auntie in Egypt, sign up for the bone marrow registry, donate blood, put off the vacation to Disney World so you can send money back home, volunteer in your community to feed the homeless, then everything you do will be rewarded and you’ll never lose one iota of that reward. And when you do what you can, perhaps you squeeze some and do some more, stop eating out to save an extra $20 for a well in a village in Ghana or baby formula for a friend in Baltimore. You wear and old but serviceable abaya to Eid instead of splurging on a new one. You “use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without”.

You do what you can. And you turn to Allah and you pray in the night and you make supplication – because a heartfelt du’a is a powerful, powerful weapon. The du’a can be stronger than bullets or bombs – it is a direct line to Allah and it has the power to evoke change. You pray and you make du’a and you make that an important part of your life, and you live your life.

You turn off the TV, leave your smartphone in the bedroom, shut down the computer, grab the kids, go to the park, help your toddler learn to ride his bike, look for figs on the fig tree, sweep the sidewalk, watch the cat chase a squirrel, check on the neighbor who is moving in two days, listen to the frogs croaking, make dinner,make pie, wash up, watch a funny movie with the kids, study some, and go to bed. And you wake up the next morning and pray and go to work or school and live a good life.

Living a full life in your world does not mean you don’t care for other people in their worlds. It means you are normal. You balance your care and concern with trust in Allah’s Divine Decree and you temper your grief with the knowledge that this world is a test and those who are killed may be the best among us whom Allah is relieving of the burdens of this world. You take it one day at a time. You cry when you need to, but you make sure you smile when your daughter brings you a messy crayon portrait of the cat and you laugh out loud when you catch your oldest son sneaking pie from the fridge before dinner. You live, because you can’t sit around being a blubbering wreck all the time. You have a life to live, a life that includes grief and happiness. If you spend all your time in front of the TV or computer you’ll surely go mad, so don’t feel like you are committing a sin by turning away to live your life. Allah does not require us to be martyrs to grief; He requires us to do what we can and to live in this world while preparing for the next. Think of the reward of Jannah for those who die in a state of belief and that will help you have patience in the face of terrible news. This is not an easy world to live in, but it was never meant to be. And Allah knows best.

Nancy Qualls-Shehata

Nancy is a writer, wife, and mom (in no particular order) living in the suburbs of Virginia. Her goals in life are to teach Muslims and non-Muslims about Islam and to learn to bake biscuits that don’t taste like hockey pucks.

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