There are three life experiences I’ve had, that I strongly feel every adult should experience. They are things that have opened my eyes to reality in a way that only experience can do; knowing something by being taught it or hearing about it is never the same as experiencing it for yourself.
The first of these, is washing the body of a deceased person in preparation for burial. It doesn’t have to be someone you know – the first body I washed was a stranger, an old man who had no family who cared enough about him to do him this service. We all know about death, and we all realize that every soul must taste of death, sooner or later. However doing this brought the reality of death to the forefront of my vision. Remember death often and it will soften your attachment to the illusions of this life.
The second was the birth of my first child. We are all alive, and we are aware of our lives and the lives of those around us. But to see the start of life and the very first breath, is something else altogether that escapes description by mere language. When my daughter was born, in the first few moments she had a blue appearance and that first breath did not yet come. In that moment a fear that she was not at all alive gripped my heart like an enormous fist ready to squeeze until it exploded. In the next moment that breath came and life flowed. It was then that I realized something about life and humanity that I never conceived before.
When we read the seerah of the Messenger of Allah (his biography), we read that when his son, Ibrahim died as a child, he cried. Yes, he was a human being, and a parent, and of course, when a parent’s child dies, you would imagine the parent would cry, right? Conceptually, we understand this. But the reality of meaning, does not necessarily penetrate the heart. From that first breath, I came to realize, that each breath my daughter took, and every second of her life, from that moment, was an entire lifetime in itself. If she were to die a few moments later, she would have lived an entire lifetime, a lifetime I could only from that moment onwards in my life appreciate in a manner I could have never have conceived of before. Every moment of her life, from that first until present, is a gift and a reward that I am grateful for in a way I can never do justice by way of written or spoken language.
The third experience, I was able to taste today only for the first time today. That was of taking the life of the animal that I am going to consume for my own sustenance, by my own hand. Sure, all of those of us who consume meat, usually purchase it in some fashion, either fully prepared and seasoned or as raw meat which we take home and cook. Again, conceptually, we realize where this meat came from – that burger was once a cow chewing cud, that grilled chicken leg was once a bird scratching at the ground in search of food. But it is another matter, to soothe and calm the beast while it is alive, bring it to the place of its imminent slaughter, and then bring the sharpened blade across its jugular with the words which we have been taught. All these years, I had never been able to bring myself to do this, though I had come to the place of slaughter many times with the intention to do so, in fear that I might miss the mark, that the animal might suffer or it’s death be prolonged. My fears were misplaced, my apprehension yet another illusion which has dissolved before the breeze of reality.