There’s a verse in the Quran which says “no one really knows those joys of the eye that are kept hidden and treasured from them. As a reward [gift] for their good action.” (32.17)
One implication of this verse, as it was explained to me, is that many of the gifts we receive might be because of something we or someone close to us has done (although we might have no idea when they were done). And also that there is no cause and effect that we can control: if I want God to provide help with our next round of fundraising, for example, I can’t just do good actions for the next 2 months and expect God to ultimately show up with a check. Because it doesn’t work like that: “no one knows the joys that are kept hidden.”
A few verses later, there is a seemingly reciprocal verse, which says that we will suffer calamities in this world that are divine warnings, inviting us to return to the path before a greater calamity occurs. (32.21)
Before yesterday, it’s hard to imagine that I would have ever thought these two ideas could happen at the same time / in a single form: that something could be both a gift and a calamity-warning. But somehow, both a gift and warning came just off of Walton Road, in Lahore, as I carelessly tried to cycle through traffic and struck an oncoming motorcyclist who was initially blocked from my view.
The gift was that I walked away from the hospital 12 hours later, with essentially only a broken pinky and two small rods. The gift was that we avoided head on collision, and that neither of us were suffering like the dear young man lying next to me in ICU who had a double skull fracture from a similar motorbike accident that morning. The gift was that I didn’t hit the family on a motorbike just inches to my other side, as I can’t possibly imagine what could’ve happened to the tiny baby they were carrying. The gift is that I have family, friends and team members who supported me and helped with everything that was needed.
I have no idea what good actions I have done to deserve these gifts, but I suspect that it might have more to do with the good actions of my parents. As my friend and mentor Jawad said yesterday, perhaps the way we treat our parents is what influences how our own kids turn out. Meaning that — although we’ll never know — perhaps these gifts that I received were in response to the good actions of my parents towards their own parents. For which I now feel an even deeper sense of gratitude.
And yet, at the same time, this exact same gift was also a warning. A warning for what, exactly, I am still reflecting on, although there are some pretty obvious starting points: Like cycling recklessly to cross the street against traffic and thinking no one will get hurt. Or not wearing a helmet and the lack of humility and responsibility that involves. Or even the way that I usually drive — which is not great — in a country with very few traffic laws and the possibility that anyone else might randomly show up in front of me while they carelessly try to cross the road.
As Jawad shared these verses with me, and I reflected on the gift and the warning of the day, I thought back to my first serious bike accident, and the lessons regarding responsibility that I thought I learned at that time:
When the impossibility of replacing a person is realized, it allows the responsibility which a man has for his existence and it’s continuance to appear in all its magnitude. (Victor Frankl)
I am extremely grateful for both the gift and the warning, and pray that I will not take either for granted, but use both to again re-realize the impossibility of replacing a person, and carrying/living the responsibility that this comes with.