At reception, he was met by the doctor who introduced him to a nurse who accompanied him to the ward and indicated his bed. He felt he was being processed-routine procedures, no doubt. He noted his surroundings with the nervousness of someone about to undergo his first operation. There was a plain white smock for him to put on. He undressed completely behind curtains which enclosed the bed and put on the smock. The transition from the many bits of his normal clothing to the single, bare hospital smock put him in mind of a corpse being dressed in a shroud. The nearness of the afterlife came home to him sharply, and he thought: ‘There is too much of show and display in our lives. It makes us heedless of death and the hereafter.’
The anaesthetist and the nurses who wheeled him on a stretcher-bed to the operating theatre seemed hardly to be aware of him. They talked mostly to each other, and religion was no part of their conversation. They did their work routinely. He could not feel any friend- liness or warmth towards them. Clinical sterility and all the hardware of modem medicine around him reminded him of darkness rather than light, of cold and not warmth, of pessimism and not hope, of death rather than life. He felt himself a stranger in this world, an alien, as he sometimes did also among people on the street, in the bus, at the market.
The anaesthetic when administered was most effective; he must have passed out after only a few seconds...
He woke to find himself in the ward again, and in pain as if oppressed by a heavy burden. It must be all over, he thought, somewhat amazed. Whatever needed cutting out must have been cut out. He felt as if he had been given a new life. As he was coming to, he heard other patients complaining of their pain: ‘0 God, I cannot bear it. 0 Lord, help me!’ Why must it be so? Why do we not grasp our neediness, our weakness, before God, until our suffering is extreme? To knock so urgently at the door of His mercy when we experience hardship, while we fail to thank Him in prosperity, is something peculiar to man.
He had been freed from a bodily illness. The skill of the surgeon had cut out the local cause of his pain. Good. Now, if only there were illustrious doctors who could cure the wounds, the pain and sufferings, of his spirit, who could cut out the tumours of his sins!
After being discharged from hospital he returned home where he lived alone for some time. He received news of the death of his grandmother. He wouldn’t be able to see her again and kiss her hands as he used to do on festival days, nor hear her recite, in her supplication to God after the dawn prayer, the names of all her relatives, one by one, praying with sincere tears for the well-being of each of them.
One by one all his loved ones would be separated from him. That was certain, living in solitude was good and proper. It helped him to feel the closeness of the real Friend. Family and friends and colleagues could be a comfort at times, but they also inculcated routine and habit. For this reason, perhaps, serious-minded people have always felt a need to go into retreat for a short period. A famous man who suffered greatly in this age used to be fearful of what was familiar and altered by human handiwork and familiar with what had remained unaltered, wild: therefore, he used to go into mountains and stay in the company of his Compassionate Lord who knew the innermost secrets of his heart.
His lifetime and the lifetime of his loved ones were short. Either he would leave them or they would leave him: separation was certain. He had noticed in the mirror that white hairs were beginning to appear on his head. Old age and death... Despite the white hairs, he felt himself a child, not even an adolescent. To experience the reality of old age and death is something quite different from what is presented on the subject in books and movies. Certain realities can only be understood with the passage of time and by directly experiencing them; they cannot be understood through words or images about them, however eloquent or moving.
He drifted on waves of intense emotion, at times supposing he was very far away from Him, at other times feeling that He was very near. New windows were opening in his mind for why he believed what he believed, why he had said what he had said, why he had lived through what he had lived through. He saw these words in a light-filled book: ‘We shall seek to sell our selves and our goods (which were only ever on loan to us) to God, in exchange for Paradise, the realm of eternal bliss, and for His pleasure which is a goal whose value no mind can measure’. Is it such a heavy bargain that most people do not sell? No, indeed it is not. For the circle of the permitted things is broad enough to know many pleasures and find ease and contentment in this life. There is no need at all to venture into the circle of the unlawful. The obligatory duties are neither many nor burdensome. To be a slave and soldier of God is a rank of such honour, the delight in it can scarcely be expressed in words. And our duty is to act for the sake of God, and to give and take for His sake, and to move within the circle of His permission and law, so that we may attain peace.
Peace of mind, soul and heart... The peace felt in the bones through the sheer ease of observing the bounds, of not transgressing. Who knows how many people are seeking this peace? How many are fed up with the unlawful ways, who long to rise up against their sins, but plunge back into them after finding no support and becoming depressed...
Looking through a photograph album, he slipped into old memories. The adventure of his life was covered with the leaves of years. Regret at not maintaining the innocence he had been born with increased as he turned the pages. How should so many sins be cleansed, so many spiritual wounds be healed?
Whenever he felt helpless he would turn to his book of supplications and recite from it. He did so now. After a few sentences he was overcome with weeping. He had thought after the operation: ‘If only there were an illustrious doctor certificated by the Healer who could cure the illness and sufferings of my spirit.’ Now, it was as if that doctor were standing but a few steps ahead of him: ‘O my Lord! Peace and blessings from You upon our master Muhammad, the chosen one! In his example is the healing and remedy of hearts, the wholeness and cure of bodies, the light and brightness of eyes.’