On Friday, I had a conversation with a woman who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t know if I was just exceptionally emotional this morning due to a lack of sleep or if I was able to see what Alzheimer’s was capable of destroying, before it had actually done so.
The woman I spoke with had been a doctor in her better days. I don’t know her well enough to know what her specialty was, only that as a doctor, she had an impressive educational background. She undoubtedly mastered an understanding of the structure and function of the human body, as well as the inner workings of the human mind. After our conversation, I found myself wondering if she ever contributed to medical research, or how many lives had their quality improved as a result of the dedication she likely had to her profession. My mood for the rest of the day was melancholy, as I thought about how all those bits and pieces of information she gathered over her years would eventually be erased. Countless people would be robbed of the opportunity to benefit from the knowledge this woman held. And this was just an opinion from my point of view. What about the daughter whose face she would one day not be able to recognize? The spouse she wouldn’t be able to recall having been married to? I suppose that as we are exposed to hardships throughout our lives, we each develop our own coping mechanisms. I just truly can’t imagine being able to develop one that would help me deal with this disease being inflicted on someone I love. The mere thought of it makes my chest tighten, and I pray it isn’t an experience I ever have firsthand.
There was a Muslim in Buffalo who was in the end stages of the disease before I left. I didn’t know him well, but Jabr (my brother for all intents and purposes) spent a good deal of time with him. This man didn’t recognize anyone, not even people he had known for years. He was a hafiz though, meaning he had memorized the entire Qur’an. And amazingly, he never forgot a word of it. Despite the fact that his memory had deteriorated so badly that he was no longer capable of bathing himself, he remembered each word of the Qur’an and could recite it with perfect clarity. He never forgot that he was supposed to pray, either. Whenever he had a visitor, no matter what time of day it was, he was anxious for the opportunity to recite the words that never left his mind, almost as though he were aware of his condition and wanted to hold on to what little memory he had left.
Remembering the life of that man helped calm the anxiety I felt after speaking with the doctor who was recently became acquainted with the debilitating disease on a very personal level. It also reminded me that this life is but a miniscule segment of a soul’s existence. What we acquire here is fleeting. There is a saying in Islam that tells us to prefer what eternal to that which is fleeting. That’s not to say that an education is unnecessary, or that accumulating wealth is a waste. There is nothing wrong with enjoying what this life has to offer, so long as we remember that this life is only the beginning. As good things eventually come to an end, so does pain and suffering.