Our relationships aren’t defined by the gifts and things we left each other. Instead we must turn to the bond and love that we shared.
If you need an item to remind you of someone you loved then your heart isn’t working right. Objects are incidental. Sometimes though we cannot let go of them because it seems paramount to letting go of the person themselves.
An old comb is an unwanted thing. But that same old comb, if it was your late mother’s, now becomes a treasure. It is hut what we know that gives things their value. The item is merely a vessel, it’s worth entirely a construct in our minds or perhaps a manifestation of a deep, spiritual and emotional link.
Every time we got to Eid, us children would meet up in the noon and go around together, visiting our neighbours. There was an old lady who never would turn us down, instead always happy to see us. She lived in a remote corner of the village, too far out for people to pass by, too quiet a place for anyone to go, but well within the interest of adventurous children.
The first time we went there she only served water and apologised profusely for having run out of food. When we got up to leave, gave us colourful handmade envelopes. They were always empty.
You’d think we hated her and mocked her.
We were young but not foolish. Lacking in wisdom but not mentors. And once we even caught the biggest boy in our gang crying in the toilet after we’d left her house.
It was some time after that day that we learnt how this old lady had been getting by the whole time. She lived off the land behind her house, occassionally going into the woods to forage for wild plants. It turns out too that every week at least one of the two nearest families would send a representative over to check on her and drop off some supplies. None of them really had much but we all had enough, you see.
That was the sort of community we grew up in. Like i said, nowhere short of mentors.
As the years passed one by one we grew old enough to work. We continued to visit the old lady, sometimes every month, and those who had money would give what they could. She always cried.
We cried too as she was the next closest thing we had to family.
As we achieved more in life, so did the comfort we could afford for her and a few more in our village as well.
She became an important person to us but we only realised her lofty status and extent of her piety the day she passed away.
It was the day of the inaugural Grand Maulid at our mosque, and all the big scholars and teachers graced the event. And they all did the funeral prayer for her, the biggest scholar leading, and the thousands of attendees following in congregation.
Many years later and i had a child of my own. It was his first Eid as a young boy and he just got dressed. He came to me all cheery and bubbly, kissed my hand and hugged me. We exchanged some nice words and i reached into my pocket for his envelope. I made it myself a few nights before, crafted with care and love.
I gave it to him. He kept it and I got up to give him a chance to peek into it. From the corner of my eyes I saw his expression as he opened the packet to discover it empty.
The rest of the day my boy was quiet, obviously deep in thought. That night when i tucked him in he held my hand and looked me in the eye.
‘Dad I love you. I know you love me too. I want you to know it’s okay if you don’t have money to give me for Eid. I have you and mom and that’s already a really good present.’ He smiled and I felt an overwhelming surge of love and affection from him.
I pulled him into a hug.
That night when I prayed I thought about a lot of things.
The next morning after breakfast i sat my son down to speak to him about the significance of the empty envelope. I made it clear to him that we had enough money but that i was extremely proud and grateful to him for his mature response.
Then i told him how it all started. I brought him back through time to when i was not much older than him. The story went on and on and finally, i reached its end.
‘That old lady taught me so much and if you think about it, it’s quite amazing really. She didn’t really have anything and she was of a very low profile. But somehow, she was such a blessed person, as we can infer from her funeral, and the blessings i got from her i have just shared with you.
‘The thing you must remember, my dear son, is that all the important things in live are much bigger than the physical things most people hold so precious. Love is shown not by the things we give or the presents we buy but the feelings we have for one another. The heart speaks its own language so don’t get distracted by the noise of this world. Allow your heart to listen, and respond.
Many years later…
I’m cleaning out my belongings, ready to start packing for uni when i come across a colourful paper envelope. Immediately i’m brought back to the day my father gave it to me on the morning of Eid, empty. I smile as everything comes rushing back. And then it finally hits me. I finally understand.
I walk over to the bin and throw the envelope away. I stand there, perfectly still.
I’m quieten my mind and think about my father. I feel the warmth of his love mixing with the rush of respect, love and awe i have of him. I feel my heart beating and i listen.
My dear father, i understand now. It took me so long but i have finally learnt the first lesson you taught me all those many years ago.
Then i reach into my pocket and pull out my phone.