World renowned film actress Anna Lee once said,
"Remember that even though the outside world might be raining, if you keep on smiling, the sun will soon show its face and smile back at you."
Yeah.... Um, I don't know who Anna Lee is, and when I kept smiling at the outside world, you want to know what the sun gave me?
Anyway, the point that Ms. Lee is aiming to make is that life won’t always go in whichever direction you choose. Things will happen. Calculus, biology, and english will be hard. Your aunt overseas will irritate you when she tries to get you married as soon as you turn seventeen. Your baby brother will draw awkward doodles on your bedroom door in Sharpie, and your father, he’ll still call your Hispanic friends his “amigos”.
So how exactly do you tackle this ever present issue that picks at your mind, that constantly whispers and reiterates those hurtful words said about you from someone you thought you could trust? How do you just forget those comments the kid behind you in math made when you answered the question wrong? How do you just ignore the never ending pleas from your parents for you to pursue medicine...when you're sure you won’t? Three little words, perform them and they’ll change your life.
You do good.
And before you roll your eyes in annoyance, I know what you’re thinking. That it’s much easier said than done, and I agree. Before the summer of 2013, I possessed an identical thought process. I thought, why? Why should I do all these good things, when the world is unfair? Jack from the Titanic was kind to Rose, and she let him drown when we all know that there was enough space for the both of them in that dingy. You think, karma isn’t real. People use you, abuse you, and cripple your trust.
Growing up, we always hear that we should treat others the way we would like to be treated, but it's time we realize the bitter truth that not everyone will. Sometimes people don't care and the absolute worst thing you can ever do in situations concerning these type of people is to succumb to their will. All in all, the answer to this issue is eloquently worded by Mr. Ian McLauren, who advises us to "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."
Last summer, I volunteered at a mental health clinic, where roughly 95% of the clients there were on probation or parole, homeless, or lived on food stamps. My job was simple: staple papers, wash dirty dishes in the staff lunchroom and occasionally, take "vitals". The process of taking vitals involved snapping on a pair of latex gloves, filling out a short survey per patient, taking blood pressure, and kindly leading them to the door. My day was going just as usual, but quickly developed into a life lesson worth sharing when the medical technician asked me to give vitals while she headed to a meeting.
I remember when that man walked up to the glass wall the instant I spoke his name into the microphone. I opened the door, and was greeted by a tall, tan-skinned, Hispanic male with tattoos scattered along his arms and face. Okay, not exactly what I was expecting. As soon as he sat down, I noticed his uncomfortable posture. Upon further inspection, I realized that he was crying. I greeted him a few times with a "how was your day?", which he dismissed with a barely audible response. He was began shivering. I was concerned and not going to lie, a bit upset that this man, whom I had treated with nothing but kindness, was brushing off my attempts at conversation.
I looked for my superiors, unsure of how to approach him. He was tracing his tattoos, trembling, crying and avoiding eye contact. I tried again, this time with a joke. “Sir, can I ask you a question?” he looked taken aback, and incoherently nodded. I cleared my throat.“How do you stop a skunk from smelling?” He looked at me unexpectedly. “hold it’s nose!” I called out, a little too proud of my outburst. I think I even saw him crack a smile, until he regained his composure and gave me a look.
I awkwardly continued with the vital procedure until I noticed something while taking his arm for blood pressure.
He had cuts. Down from his elbows to his wrists, all perfectly aligned, and some still fresh, with blood lingering along the edges. I involuntarily gasped and his tears turned to sobs. The first thought that arose in my mind was, why? Why would someone so young, and seemingly healthy do such a thing? I had no idea what to do. Should I comfort him? Tell him that everything's alright, and that it's going to be okay? But then again, who was I but a random high schooler with a summer job? I already seemed to have annoyed him. I reluctantly decided against it and realized it was none of my business. My job was simply completed the second I scribbled his weight on a slip. But no matter how much I pushed this scenario away, an image of his cuts enveloped my mind. What could have happened so horrible, that he, a young man about only 22 years old would do such a thing to his own body? I was lost in my sea of thoughts when he cleared his throat and got up to leave.
Just before he walked out the door, he stopped in his tracks and spoke. “You know, it’s because of people like you that today, these are just cuts”. I was taken aback. I mumbled something along the lines of “thank you” before leading him to the door.
Moments later, I slipped into the restroom and cried. Suddenly, all my worries in life evaporated in the face of his. I thought deeply about all the blessings Allah swt has bestowed upon me. Honestly, I have never experienced a feeling of goodness that can surmount that which was felt that day.
Sometimes, I'll think about what would have happened if I had reacted differently. To this day, I can easily say that the best thing I ever did in my life was treat that man, who at first, seemed to so blatantly rejected me, with kindness.
Starting today, treat everyone you meet with utter compassion. Bestow upon them all the care, comfort and understanding you can possibly muster, and try to do it with no second thoughts of reward, no sign of reconciliation. With a smile and a few kind words, you can cast a little sunshine into someone’s horrible day and maybe even change their outlook on life. And even if you don’t receive a response of that goodness in this life, I guarantee that you will get your reward where it matters, and that is with Allah (swt).