I am not good at story-telling, but there’s a story I want to tell. It’s related to a person, or rather the act of that person, which I was profoundly inspired by. You may have come across this story too, it soon became viral in a war-torn world that is thirsty for kindness, for any news of generosity, for selfless love. Yes, I have read many such stories before, but somehow this one struck a chord with me.
I had a chance to go to a religious gathering once; a spiritual lodge, so to speak. Honestly, I was just looking for some sort of an ecstasy, the sort you get from a spiritual high, which gives you stimulation and energy to get through the everyday and mundane life. In a way, you could say, I wasn’t really seeking God, rather I was seeking the ecstasy one gets while seeking God, know what I mean?
And in case you are wondering, no I did not get that ecstasy. But it’s okay, I had tried consoling myself with these words as the gathering came to a sad end and we began packing up; ecstasy is not the purpose, God is the purpose, I reminded myself, disappointed though I was. I went outside and began searching for my slippers in the huge pile, but I could not find them anywhere, it was a small thing, they were cheap slippers, maybe they cost Rs. 100 or even less, but it irked me since I had to pray and we were in a rush to leave, and I was already heart-broken over the stimulation which I had not gotten on this trip; a trip that had begun to seem pretty useless to begin with at this point.
I soon got sick of searching, so I borrowed slippers from a generous lady who lent them with a request that I do return them, since she had to attend a wedding afterwards. Attend a wedding… in slippers, I mused to myself as I thanked her. I imagined her going to the wedding in those pantofles, and it seemed rather odd, so I thought about it some more. I thought of her simplicity, as I made wudhu, and contrasted it with the fashion-thirsty society I knew of. I felt something strange. There was some warmth in my heart; a warm sensation that was calming my agitated self; as though I had been holding onto cactus, hurting myself, and she had taken it away from me, with a kind smile, no less.
By the time I came out, I was already feeling better. And then I spotted those feet which had my slippers on them. She was a teenager and looked like she belonged to a small town or a village. I said my salam to her and I asked her for that thing which obviously belonged to me.
I’m sorry, I’m so sorry baji, she was worried, she was telling about her problems, they seemed so many, I hardly caught on some of what she was saying. She lived far away. Where? They would scold her. Who? Someone else had taken her shoes, how would she travel? Yes, yes, I nodded and hoped she would finish soon, I too was in a rush, and anyway, these were her problems, not mine, right?
I tried calming her down, that I didn’t mind her using my shoes, just that I wanted them back. But she seemed to go on endlessly and as I was looking at her, I was reminded of that man from the bus, from the post that had gone viral, I thought about him, about what he had done. But that’s absurd! I thought. Who would give their shoes to someone and go home bare-feet? Yes, it sounds inspiring on social media, but this is real life. And anyway, I had to travel to another city, it’s not like there were any shops around.
In those brief moments, I had thoughts, many logical and rational thoughts. At long last, I reluctantly told her that she could keep wearing those slippers and that I didn’t want them back. I could hear my brain scolding me, you fool! How will you go back home! But then I looked at her face and forgot all about it.
I will always remember that face; she was so happy and relieved. Seeing her happy made me happy. She asked me for my name, she said she would make du’a for me. She told me she was studying ilm, she wanted to tell me so much more… but I had to leave. So I hugged her and said my salam.
I sighed and looked down at my feet. I was just hoping no one would notice that I wasn’t wearing any shoes. Come to think of it, that’s all we really care about; about others thoughts about us, a conspicuous lot that we are. But walking bare-feet was different, it was beautiful. That’s all I remember from that time now.
That girl, I don’t know where she is, I don’t know if I will ever meet her again. And though I know she will probably never read this, I still want to thank her for letting me experience, for a brief fleeting moment, her unexpected happiness, for letting me be a part of it. I want to thank her because in return for whatever worthless thing I gave her, she gave me something that was truly priceless.
I want to thank that Muslim man for what he did, for showing the world that there is another way to live; a life of giving to others as opposed to seeking self-interest from every interaction. I want to thank that lady too, who was going to attend the wedding in her slippers, simply because of the person she is!
Come to think of it, there are many people who have changed me in different ways, whom I have learnt great lessons from. They may not be great people, they are definitely not perfect people, but some of the things they have done are almost perfect and great.