A Rendezvous with Death: Bearing Trials with Patience


A moving and insightful period in the life of one of our authors puts things into perspective for a lot of us.

I like to reminisce about the days I used to be bald.

Not many people have had the experience, or should I say privilege, of knowing what it feels like to run your fingers through absolutely nothing but a palette of warmth resonating from the top of your head, smooth as a baby’s bottom. I distinctly remember falling asleep every night, curled in a ball with the palm of my hand sprawled across the baldness of my freckled head–I did it almost instinctually, as though the power of heat traveling from my hand, radiated through the rest of my body. In the morning I would wake up half heartedly and find a scarf to shield the nakedness of my head and ears from the unsparing winds, shuffling my way outside only to relive the same dreadful day I’d encountered for the past few years.

Everyone at the hospital knew me by name and birth date – I was a regular there. The day usually began with blood work. Sometimes it was drawn from those teasing veins in my hands and arms which were so keen on playing hide and seek. And the nurse was like a hunter searching for prey beneath my skin – jabbing the needle at her target with every glimmering opportunity she saw. I might have been sobbing at that point, if I hadn’t already become immune to the pain.

The rest of my time there was usually consumed with hours of idle waiting as I inhaled nauseating flavors of the pediatric oncology ward, with its piercing scents of chemotherapy flavored orange juice and iodine based antiseptics mixed with Lorna Doone shortbread cookies. Suffice it to say, it was disgusting. And to this day, just looking at the yellow packaging of those cookies makes me sick. I never understood how people could be so comfortable eating and drinking in that putrid place.

Once my cocktail of chemotherapies was mixed and ready to be ingested, the chemo would run through my body like little army soldiers combating the tumor that claimed its territory near my fragile and weak 16-year-old heart. The soldierly combat and commotion stirring inside my body had always left me completely battered and exhausted – but I vowed to take one for the team if we were going to win that war.

Finally, after completing a one year chemotherapy regimen which marked the road to remission, I envisioned life being perfect – in whatever manifestation I imagined that to be. I could go back to school, hang out with friends, grow some hair – you know, all the things that “normal” kids did. But instantaneously I was robbed of hope, unable to even pick up the pieces of my shattered dreams when I heard my stern faced team of doctors utter the words: “There’s been a growth.” I remember excusing myself from the meeting, dragging the IV pole I was attached to alongside my spiritually empty vessel of a body. My feet were like cast iron anchors holding me captive in place, but I fought back with every fiber of energy left in my depleted being, to make it to the bathroom just across the hall. My mind aimlessly ruminated over my relapse and the nearness of death, as I pressed my back against the stall and slid down to the ground utterly defeated. I sobbed quietly wiping away dry tears, the wetness of which my fatigued body had lost any energy to produce.

Seven years later and cancer free (walhamdulilah), I cannot imagine who I would be today had I not been blessed with such a weighty trial in my life. It taught me how to sincerely appreciate the value of life; not allowing myself to take a breath without being thankful for it. I learned that people are inherently good no matter what faith tradition they are from and that human beings are ultimately instruments of God’s Divine Mercy. But more than anything, Allah blessed me with this trial as a means of seeking nearness to Him, and allowing me to cultivate a relationship with Him subhanahu wa ta’ala, which truly is the most indescribable gift that any servant of His could ever hope to encounter.

In my nearly-three-year battle with cancer, I remember constantly questioning God and almost challenging His authority. I was naively holding on to a crushed spirit that had been robbed of its youth, or what I was conditioned to believe were the best years of a person‘s life. I was struggling to come to terms with what the purpose of it all was, selfishly bypassing the reality of God’s Divine Grace, unable to recognize the greater plan He had in store for me. If only I had perceived it back then; but understandably, when it seems like everything in your life is going wrong, you can’t help but become the victim of that venomous downward spiral of self pity and loneliness.

Our limited understanding of the verse, “And Allah is the Best of Planners” [3:54], often causes us to view hardships as sources of evil, punishment and malice – provoking us to turn away from Him. But how much better would our lives be if we were able to experience serenity in the reality of His Divine wisdom, and patiently bear trials knowing there is a greater purpose we have yet to realize. Though we are all tried with varying levels of hardship, the real test is not in the hardship itself, but the lessons we take from it and how we use that as a means to better ourselves and set an example for those around us.

I made the decision to don hijab a little later in life, but it is only now that I realize and can appreciate the irony of my situation: I was a bald, yet unofficial hijabi for almost three years during my rendezvous with cancer. I can only surmise that God, in His Insurmountable Wisdom, might have been trying to tell me something.