FAILING senior year, a best friend moving a continent away, a fight with your mom, death in the family, that horrible accounts teacher.
What do all these have in common?
Tests. Tests from Allah, set upon us. To evaluate us, to help us progress, to help us grow. To give us that perseverance to go on doing what we believe in, and eventually, to achieve that goal.
Surviving the ordeal aside, there is a much poignant factor not very often taken into consideration, something that counts far more than your physical endurance; the changes that affect us as we go through these tests, what becomes of the soul that’s inside us, our hearts, our spirits, and our ideas count far more than merely scraping past the ‘test’.
Making sure that even through this hurricane, we are firmly planted in the concrete of our belief; ‘verily after hardship comes ease’ (Quran 94:6), and the promise that Allah does not burden a soul greater than it can bear; will not only ease out current mental disposition, but help us deal with those that are yet to come.
The story that I am about to narrate is one that has been the subject of many forwarded emails, hence, I am under no illusions that I can enchant your minds with an original story. My purpose, however, of this particular narration directs towards reflection, in order that we can reflect, and ponder, where exactly do we stand in the meter of endurance, and how exactly do we reach when in ‘hot water’, I wish to help oneself illuminate and identify where our shortcoming lay, and what we can build on those delicate foundations, and change ourselves for the better…
Habiba stormed into the kitchen, tossing her schoolbag across the counter.
“I can’t take it anymore!” she hissed, “I can’t take any of it!”
Her mother calmly closed the refrigerator door, and placed the tomatoes next to the sink. “What’s wrong, dear?” she asked, calmly, wiping her wet hands on her apron.
“It’s HER!! She’s ruining my life! She does everything, everything!! And then she has the nerve – the audacity to put the blame on me!! I can’t stand it!” Habiba yelled.
Her mother smiled at her softly, “you have a problem” she said, understandingly.
“A problem?! A PROBLEM?!!” Habiba screeched, “No, ‘problem’ was when she started taking credit for everything I was doing; now she’s just trying to destroy my image! Nobody in class is going to like me after this!” she moaned.
Habiba’s mother looked at her daughter for a long time, a smile playing on her face. Finally, “come here” she said, “I want to show you something”.
And with that, she removed the pots off the stove in which were simmering that mid-day’s meal, and reached for three fresh pots, roughly of the same size.
Prompted by curiosity, Habiba’s anger slid away as she proceeded to move next to her mother, and observe more closely what she was doing.
Filling each pot half-way with water, Habiba’s mother placed them on the stove and let them boil.
Once the soft bubbling resonated through the otherwise quiet kitchen, Habiba’s mother reached for an egg.
“Feel this” she said, placing the smooth roundness in the palm of her daughter’s hand.
“What’s it feel like” she asked once Habiba had run her hand across its surface.
“The shell – it’s hard” Habiba replied, puzzled.
“And what’s it like on the inside?”
Her mother then carefully placed the egg inside one of the three boiling pots.
She then reached for a carrot, and once again, placed it in Habiba’s hand, “feel this” she said, holding her daughters free hand, and running it across the length of the carrot.
“It’s hard” Habiba responded quizzically, her puzzlement elevating by the second.
“And on the inside?”
“It’s still hard, mom”
Wordlessly, her mother dropped the carrot into another of the pots, and finally reached for a jar.
“Smell this” she said, holding it lidless under Habiba’s nose.
“It’s coffee” Habiba replied, impatience now lacing her voice. “It smells like coffee”
Her mother then scooped up some coffee, and dropped it into the last pot.
Minutes later, Habiba’s mother scooped out the egg, and placed it in a bowl inside the sink.
“Crack that” she instructed her daughter.
Reaching for a fork, Habiba hit the shell until she could pull away shards of it to reveal the boiled whiteness within.
“What happened to the liquid?” her mother asked.
“It hardened” Habiba shrugged.
Her mother then reached for the carrot, and placed it on a chopping board. “Slice this” she asked her daughter.
The knife slipped into the now soft carrot easily, and Habiba had her task completed in no time.
“What happened to the hardness of the carrot?” her mother asked.
“it softened” Habiba replied, popping, popping a still hot slice into her mouth, then promptly spitting it out of her singed mouth.
“And this,“ her mother poured the coffee into a mug, and placed it in front of Habiba.
Her reaction was instantaneous; her salivary glands went into overdrive, and she longed to take a sip of the delicious looking – and smelling coffee that sat in front of her, wafting its pleasant aroma around the kitchen.
“What happened to the coffee powder?”
“It…uh…released the flavor into the water” Habiba answered.
Her mother smiled with satisfaction. “The egg, the carrot, and the coffee all went through the same trial: hot water. And yet, they each chose to react differently, the inside of the egg hardened, the carrot softened altogether, and the coffee turned the water into something purely delicious…the same concept applies to us, to what happens to us when we go through our own hot water, don’t you think?” she eyed her daughter, smiling softly, “we will all definitely be going through trials of our own, but only we can decide if we will softer, weaken – and loose our courage and strength altogether – like the carrot, or have our hearts harden, and turn cold and unforgiving – like the egg, or to change the situation itself, and instead of wallowing in the misery of it, choose to improve the circumstances, and revise the entire environment itself – like the coffee.”
Admitted, life isn’t always as clear as that, life doesn’t always leave us with either black or white, one or the other, and I know that sometimes, even when we do try our very best, things don’t always turn out the way we plan it to. But that, I guess is the beauty of it. If we bear it with patience, Allah rewards us even more than we started off with.
And sometimes, on really good days, we do actually tend to become the coffee, brightening not just our lives, but the lives of those around us.
By Huda Thahir