Of Humility, Helplessness and Compassion
Earlier this month last year, I found myself praying to Allāh in a state total helplessness. It took such an unlikely event to teach me such a monumental lesson in the art of letting God. And yes, if the picture above didn't suggest it already: it involves a furry friend of mine.
Last July and August were rather emotional months for me. In fact, September was no less emotional for me as I lost my grandfather, my last living grandparent. I know when people see the word 'emotional', they immediately think of something that's just tear-jerking but when I say emotional, I really mean I experienced all KINDS of feelings in those two months, both the good and the bad. I was overjoyed, enlightened, distressed and everything that existed in the vast spectrum of human emotions.
On the second last day of Rihla (an Islamic course I attended), I received a text from my father saying one of our many cats, Theo Bear, was behaving oddly. He was peeing everywhere and did not move much while all the other cats were playing normally. I was in Melaka at that time and couldn't do anything but I urged my father to send him to the vet. He said that there were no vets open during the weekend but I insisted he had to be checked out ASAP.
We asked around and found a vet that was open on Sundays. The next morning, Theo was brought to the vet. I was in the car with 4 other course mates, on the way to a famous coconut shake stall in Melaka, when I got a call from the vet asking me if I would allow Theo to be put under anaesthesia because his body was high in uric acid. There was a blockage in his urinary track and his kidneys were swollen—the first thing the vet had to do was get rid of all the urine that was trapped inside his system.
I was warned that there was an extremely high chance Theo would not survive the procedure but if we did nothing, it would be a slow and painful death for him. Either way: his chances of survival were slim given that his condition reached a horrible stage. I told him to give me a few mins to think about it so I called my siblings and told them about the situation. None of them knew what to say—in the end, I made a scary decision to allow the vet to go ahead with the procedure.
By the time I hung up, I was trembling and tears were streaming down my cheeks. The girls who were with me didn't know what on earth was happening so the mood in the car quickly became stagnant. They asked what was wrong and to be honest, I was really embarrassed to tell them I was crying all because of a cat. In their heads, they probably thought a family member died. But if you're a pet-owner reading this: I know you'd understand just how precious a pet can be to you. They're not just an animal that you keep in your house; they hold a special place in your heart.
When we reached the stall, while I was still in tears, I explained to them what happened. I've no idea what was actually running through their minds (they probably thought I was a crazy cat lady) but they assured me Allāh would cure him and all of them would make a doa for little Theo. It started raining then and there—I remembered that doas made during rainfall are mustajab so in my heart, I pleaded to Him to heal him.
I was supposed to extend my stay in Melaka after the course ended but I cut it short to return to Ipoh that day. I think it's safe to say that I cried all the way from Melaka to Ipoh. To fast forward the story a little, within 24 hours, Theo was weak but stable and his condition had to be monitored. I visited him the next day and he had a tube connecting to his fluffy paw. He was so weak but as soon as he saw me he meowed so loud, my heart crumbled.
I couldn't stay in Ipoh for long. I had to pack my bags and head to Johor for my cousin TTA's wedding. I was her pengapit (bridesmaid) and had rehearsals to attend a few days prior to the event. The day before the wedding, I got a call from the vet saying Theo was recovering and he could be discharged in a few days. I kept him there for an extra week just to be safe and also because our whole family was not going to be around.
Some big lessons were learned during the period Theo was recovering.
LESSON #1: A doa made in a state of tawakkul is powerful
In the 2 weeks that Theo was at the vet, I don’t know the last time I doa-ed so hard for something. I doa-ed for him every waking moment. When I was in sujud, whenever it rained, before I slept and even throughout the long car-rides from Ipoh to JB, as a traveller's doa is said to be mustajab. I was worried sick and it was strange for me because as much as I adored the little guy, I never thought I cared for him that much to be reacting this way. I used to tell my sister that if he dies, he dies, just like every other pet and I wouldn't care. So much for 'not caring' because I was really affected seeing him in pain.
For one reason or another, I was not ready to lose him and I prayed so hard. My heart was totally focused in prayer every time I asked Allāh to heal him. In fact, the quality of my solat improved because all I focused on was Him. I completely let go of the idea that I could control anything. Looking back, it made me realise that perhaps one of the many reasons some doas are not answered is due to the state we are in when we make them.
We don't think about this much but if we truly want something, the way we present ourselves to Him is important. Are we demanding Allāh to grant us our wishes as if we are entitled or are we asking Him for help in a state of absolute humility and tawakkul? Are we in a state of absolute reliance on Allāh or is there a part of us that is attached to our own efforts?
To die before your death
The hadith of the Prophet ﷺ saying that we must "die before our death" made complete sense to me then. In order to die before your death, you must kill the nafs, the part of you that forgets that everything is under Allāh's control. When a person dies, it's not the physical death that is most significant but the death of the nafs. A dying person is completely dependent on Allāh's Mercy and when his soul finally leaves the body, he become totally reliant on others to bathe him, wrap his body and bury him.
So let me ask you this: when you ask Him for something, how much of you actually have yaqin (certainty) that He will help you? Are you asking just as a final resort? Because between you and me, I've been guilty plenty of times for relying mostly on my efforts forgetting that no matter what I do, it's Al-Muqtadir, the all-Powerful, who decides on the outcome. I don't control anything. Some people don't like to admit this and we don't realise that this in itself is a form of arrogance.
When I got the news Theo was recovering well, I was so grateful I cried because it hit me that Allāh really listened. He granted me what I asked for. This silly crybaby asked her Lord to heal her pet and He did—He answered my doa. The reality is: He always does in whichever way He decides but this was one of those occasions where He granted me relief almost immediately.
LESSON #2: I had the capacity to care for another being that couldn't do much for me in return.
Now, this particular lesson shocked me. Like I said, I never knew I cared for Theo THAT much. I mean, he's JUST a cat! After he was discharged, I went into full nurse mode. The vet gave some complex instructions and I'm very hands on with things that I feel responsible for so I did not receive any (read: did not allow anyone to) help in the first few weeks.
He had to be separated from all our other cats because his food had to be mixed with prescribed medicine and I also had to observe changes in his appetite, his weight and PEE. There was always this fear at the back of my mind that I would suddenly find him in pain again or in a corner no longer breathing.
My sister would tell you I looked like a mess for the first 3 weeks Theo was back at home. I went to bed physically and emotionally exhausted everyday. Forget my tudung looking on point; that was all out the window. I'm not too sure how valuable this lesson is but I think sometimes it's always interesting to discover new things about yourself. We are constantly growing and our hearts mature when we are tested with difficult times.
Fast forward to this day: Theo still has to go for regular scans at the vet and I've to make sure he drinks aplenty everyday so that his kidneys are healthy and his urinary tract is clear. I still worry about him but I'm very grateful that he has a survived a whole year after his near-death experience. Truly, Allāh is al-Karim, most Generous, and ar-Razzaq, The Provider & Sustainer.